Report: Coal jobs will decline with or without federal regulations

A new study from the Energy Information Administration finds the Clean Power Plan speeds coal’s decline.


Amid the federal government’s reform of coal-leasing nationwide, new environmental regulations and coalmine cutbacks and layoffs, a new report from the Energy Information Administration suggests things are likely to get even grimmer for coal mining in Western states. 

The report, published July 21, states that contraction of the coal mining industry is likely to continue. Across the West, coal production is projected to decline by about 26 percent, or 230 million tons of coal, between 2015 and 2040. Those declines are already underway: A wave of coal mining layoffs have hit Colorado’s Western Slope and Wyoming’s Powder River mines as more coal companies have cut back production. 

The administration’s report found that while regulations under the Clean Power Plan lead to sharper declines in the industry, coal jobs would plummet even without federal constraints. Without the Clean Power Plan, which was implemented in February 2016 and is currently stayed by the Supreme Court, national coal production would remain close to 2015 levels, already the industry’s 40-year low, through 2040. While the EIA’s report shows that federal regulations have played a part in industry decline, historically cheap natural gas has outcompeted coal, making it harder for coal companies to stay in business.

The 2016 Energy Outlook Report studied the alternative impacts to coal mining industry prices through 2040 with and without Clean Power Plan regulations, with extended regulations, in comparison to industry reference projections.

Many coal-mining communities in the region, like Paonia, Colorado, where High Country News is based, formed around and depended almost entirely on coal economies. Here, the urgent need to fill economic gaps and adopt practical transition plans has not yet been met. “If you are a resource-dependent economy, you are much more vulnerable to forces you don’t control,” says Luke Danielson, an attorney for the Sustainable Development Strategies Group. “The West will continue to be a region where natural resources are extremely important, but we need to respond to community impacts and help them make the transition away from coal.”

According to HCN data compiled from local media and energy industry reports, more than 2,600 coal-mining jobs have disappeared since 2012 across the West. 

To explore our map, hover over individual coal mines for more details on recent layoffs. View specific operators and their respective facilities by highlighting a company name in the legend. Search geographic locations using the magnifying glass in the upper left corner. To return to original view, click the home button on the map view. 

This data is part of ongoing High Country News coverage on transitioning energy economies and Western coal mines that are facing cut-backs, closures and layoffs. The above data has been compiled from local media and industry reports, and is necessarily incomplete.

Are you aware of job cuts not reflected in our map? Please help us by filling out a tip form so we can complete our dataset on Western layoffs. 

Paige Blankenbuehler is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets

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