WSAZ Investigates: Tracking Coal Jobs Part 7

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- UPDATE 3/18/19 @ 11 p.m.
President Donald Trump promised to put coal miners back to work, and since he stepped into the Oval Office, WSAZ has been crunching the numbers to see if he is keeping his promise.

Photo: MGN Online

Experts say it will never again be what it was in its heyday, so a good market is a relative term.

In the last quarter of 2016 under President Obama, there were 15,653 direct coal mining jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Fast forward to the fourth quarter of 2018, two years into the Trump presidency, there are 17,644, which means overall the number of jobs has increased by 1,991.

"Our export market continues to be strong," Bill Raney with the West Virginia Coal Association said. "We are maintaining that, and that is why the numbers are up."

Raney says West Virginia's coal is exported to 26 countries, including India, and overseas demand is why Arch Coal is developing a new mine in Barbour County that's expected to start up in 2021.

"There are none of the companies we represent that aren't looking for additional coal miners and support personnel," Raney said.

Murray Energy also put out a call for miners earlier this month.

Kentucky produces mostly steam coal used mainly to fuel power plants. With so many closed, demand is down, but the number of miners in Kentucky is the highest it's been since we started counting.

In West Virginia, where the number of miners fell for the first time compared to the same quarter last year, lawmakers cut the tax on steam coal to save jobs.

"What that does is put us into some equity with Pennsylvania and Illinois, who don't have a severance tax," Raney said.

Raney calls it a salvation as our region comes to grips with a new normal when it comes to coal.

Both West Virginia and Kentucky have different methods for tracking jobs, and those numbers do not include miners who are contracted by companies.



UPDATE 10/1/18 @ 10:45 p.m.
The number of coal jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky grew at the highest rate in the second quarter of 2018 since President Trump took office in 2017.

That's when WSAZ started tracking the number of coal jobs that came back following the president's promise to breathe new life into the industry that was on life-support.

In the second quarter of 2018 the number of direct coal mining jobs in West Virginia grew by 729 and in Kentucky by 64.

In total, based on our calculations since President Trump took office in 2017 the number of new direct coal mining jobs in our region stands at 2,194.

But any growth from here could be challenging.

"I am told by many of the companies that we are pretty much at maximum personnel-wise so they are maxed out production because the folks are working as much as they possibly can. Equipment availability is difficult right now, a new piece of equipment you may have to wait 45 weeks," West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said.

Raney says he'd like to see production numbers go a little bit higher, but says for right now the law of supply and demand can work in our regions favor when it comes to the price of coal.

"You look at the limitations with capital, then we are probably about where we are going to be production wise, which is, we would like to be a little bit higher but then again, this keeps the price up because the supply remains down and that is not a bad thing," Raney said.

Our calculations come from the most recent information made available through the Kentucky and West Virginia Coal Associations and the respective state departments that track this information.

It is important to point out that both states track their numbers differently.

Our reports are based on the numbers provided to us from the respective states once self-reporting is complete.

However, due to different methodologies of counting in Kentucky and West Virginia and potentially delayed reporting from mines, these numbers can change.

The numbers do not take into account the number of miners contracted by individual mines.



UPDATE 5/23/18 @ 10:15 p.m.
On Friday night, President Donald Trump took to Twitter saying "America is blessed with extraordinary energy abundance, including more than 250 years worth of beautiful clean coal. We have ended the war on coal, and will continue to work to promote energy dominance."

From the tweets to the campaign trail, his promise to put miners back to work is one WSAZ has been tracking since he took office.

Here is the breakdown of the most recent numbers made available through the Kentucky and West Virginia Coal Associations and the respective state departments that track this information.

The number of coal jobs declined in the first quarter of 2018 in both West Virginia in Kentucky compared to the previous quarter.

However, analysts say the best comparison is to compare the same time period from year to year.

Comparing West Virginia Q1 2017 to Q1 2018 shows that the number of jobs in West Virginia is up year-to-year.

"It's all market driven, of course, and we think it's on the right trend, and when you look at the cumulative numbers we've got almost 52,000 people that depend on a mine working every day," Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said.

In Kentucky the number of jobs year to year is down slightly.

However as the numbers are further dissected it reveals job growth in the office and prep plant employees.

Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White has said in the past that growth in that area is often a precursor of actual mining job growth because office employees handle things like permits to start new projects.

This is the third straight report of quarter-to-quarter decline since WSAZ started tracking the numbers in January 2017. However the overall growth since that time stands at 1,401 jobs since President Trump took the oath of office.

West Virginia Speaker of the House Tim Armstead says the growth can be counted in other was like income and severance tax collections.

"We are seeing greater severance tax collections than we did last year,” Armstead said. “There is still some volatility, there is still some uncertainty in those, but it's very encouraging because we had a number of years where those were really hitting rock bottom."



UPDATE 2/22/18 @ 9:16 p.m.
From the campaign trail where then candidate Trump wore a hard hat in front of a crowd of cheering miners to the 2018 State of the Union President Trump has made himself the de facto boss of coal country.

"In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history. We have ended the war on American Energy -- and we have ended the war on clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world," President Donald Trump said during his 2018 State of the Union.

With his promise to bring back coal jobs WSAZ has been crunching the numbers to see if the president's promise to put miners back to work rings true.

This report marks WSAZ's fourth in this series and gives us a look at the president's first full year in office.

In the fourth quarter the numbers show 64 fewer jobs than in the third quarter.

However from year-to-year the numbers show an increase.

The majority of the overall workforce growth was in West Virginia where the number of jobs dropped by 29 in the fourth quarter.

West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney says it's not cause for alarm.

"No, not really because we think that was the push when the markets changed and the international markets seemed to really gain strength and we've stayed pretty close to where we were." Raney went on to say nearly every coal company the WVCA represents is hiring.

Kentucky's numbers reveal growth when it comes to jobs that are the result of mining but not actual coal miners.

The number of mining jobs declined each quarter of 2017 and by 35 in the fourth quarter.

However there was an increase in year-over-year employment at points during 2017 which the Kentucky Coal Association says is a more accurate comparison.

"The point is a lot more people are working today than there were two years ago," Raney said.

So, despite a decline in quarter four of a total of 64 jobs, the overall numbers still show growth, and the number of new mining jobs in Kentucky and West Virginia stands at 2,092

It is important to point out that both states track their numbers differently.

Our reports are based on the numbers provided to us from the respective states once self-reporting is complete.

However, due to different methodologies of counting in Kentucky and West Virginia and potentially delayed reporting from mines, these numbers can change.



UPDATE 11/21/17 @ 8:40 p.m.
When then candidate Donald Trump put on this miner's hard hat in front of a crowd of thousands at the Charleston Civic Center in May 2016 with a pledge to bring back coal jobs, he became the unofficial king of coal country.

Since he took the oath of office in January, WSAZ has been tracking the numbers to see if that promise is playing out in West Virginia and Kentucky.

In West Virginia, the numbers reveal an increase of 106 jobs in the third quarter of 2017.

It's the smallest increase in the number of jobs since President Trump took office, but West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney the trend continues to be positive.

"We lost about 8,000 miners over the last eight years," Raney said, speaking of the time President Obama was in office. "I feel like if somebody wants to go to work in the coalmines in West Virginia today and they are not working, they are probably just not looking in the right place."

Quarter three in Kentucky reveals a loss of a little more than 200 mining jobs compared to the last quarter.

However year-to-year quarter comparisons show an increase in jobs. The Kentucky Coal Association President Tyler White says comparing the same time frames each year paints a more accurate picture.

"For the first time since 2011, we have seen consistency with employment and consistency with production and that sort of consistency is something that we need to have in order to make any gains for future production employment here in Kentucky," White said.

Despite Kentucky's decline in jobs and West Virginia's slow growth in the third quarter, the number of new coal jobs continues to grow in our region.

Since President Trump took office, the number of new coal mining jobs stands at 2,156.

The numbers WSAZ is using to track the number of jobs is coming from the respective state's coal associations. They work in conjunction with state offices to track and break down the number of employees.

It's important to note that each state has different methodologies in tracking this information.

The numbers in our stories are the most up-to-date information each state has made available to us at the time of publication. As different mining companies report to the state agencies, those numbers can fluctuate. Each quarter we work to adjust our calculations based on the newest information available.

Our baseline for determining whether there has been growth began with calculating the total number of employed miners in quarter four of 2016 when President Obama was still in office.



UPDATE 9/11/17 @ 5 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- As a part of our ongoing WSAZ Investigation, Tracking Coal Jobs, we are digging in to the numbers to see if President Trump is keeping his promise to put miners back to work.

Our research determined the best way to see the growth or decline of jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky comes from each state's respective coal associations.

Both groups work in conjunction with state agencies.

However, it is important to keep in mind that both states use different methodologies of counting and tracking jobs.

Here is how the numbers break down for the second quarter of 2017 in West Virginia:

There were 12,409 underground and surface miners.

Those totals are up from the first quarter of 2017 when the number totaled 11,402 creating a quarterly increase of 1,007 miners.

"We are seeing an increase in coal production and likewise we are seeing a real increase in mining jobs, just since January total mining employment is up in the neighborhood of ten percent just since January and that is so good for West Virginia and really our nation and the world," explained Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce.

The breakdown of numbers in Kentucky for the second quarter of 2017 actually shows a decrease of 5 mining jobs from the first quarter.

In Q2 the number of jobs was 5,217.

Q1 had 5,222 surface and underground miners.

"We don't expect to see some huge boom in employment especially here in the near future," explained Kentucky Coal Association President J. Tyler White, "so even though production comes back online some of these guys might be picking up extra shifts, some of these guys might be working a little bit more and covering what work they had lost previously."

Kentucky's steam coal is used to generate electricity.

West Virginia's metallurgical coal is used in steel making and there's been a demand overseas and here at home.

Kentucky's numbers also break down the number of office workers and prep plant employees and that is one area where the Bluegrass did see growth.

In Q2, the total number of prep plant and office employees stood at 1,147. In Q1, the overall number of those types of employees stood at 1,039. That is an increase of 108 jobs.

White says those numbers show growth because in some cases they indicate mines that are working to open.

The bottom line is despite losing a few coal mining jobs in Kentucky the overall number of mining jobs is up in our region.

Since President Trump took office in January, the total number of new mining jobs stands at 1,973.

WSAZ's baseline number for overall growth or decline comes from the total number of miners reported working in Q4 of 2016 when President Obama was in office.

Keep checking WSAZ Mobile and WSAZ.com as we continue to update this story throughout Donald Trump's presidency.



ORIGINAL STORY 5/15/17
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- In May 2016, then candidate Donald Trump came to Charleston, put on a coal miner's hard hat and promised to get miners back to work.

Fast forward to May 2017. Now President Trump has signed executive orders rolling back some Obama-era environmental regulations that were intended to help the environment. However industry leaders are hopeful the rollbacks will translate into more jobs.

"After the election everybody's attitude got so much better -- then when it's quantified in the numbers and we see the companies hire people, they are bringing people back that have been laid off," explained West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney.

The president's promise for a coal-industry rebirth caused us to launch an ongoing WSAZ investigation.

As the numbers come out, we will track how many miners are working.

We checked with the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics and MSHA, the mining safety agency, to break things down.

Our research uncovered the best way to see if the growth or decline of jobs in West Virginia and Kentucky comes from the respective coal associations. Both groups work in conjunction with state agencies.

Keep in mind each state has its own methodology for tracking information.

Here's what we discovered in the first quarter of 2017: West Virginia numbers show 11,402 underground and surface miners.

That's up from the last quarter of 2016 when the number stood at 10,368 -- an increase of 1,034 jobs.

In Kentucky, the number of underground and surface miners actually decreased by 63 jobs: 5,222 miners in the first quarter of 2017 compared to 5,285 in the last quarter of 2016.

In Kentucky, the numbers are also broken down further into categories of preparation plant and office workers.

In the first quarter of 2017, that number of employees stood at 1,039. In the fourth quarter of 2016, that number stood at 1,275 -- a decrease of 236 jobs.

Regardless of the numbers Tyler White, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, says that industry trends, including the roll back of EPA regulations, are moving in the right direction.

Coal industry experts say for every miner working, it's safe to say that three additional jobs are needed to keep the mine operating. That number has gone as high as seven in years past.

"So yeah, I think one guy can make a huge difference and so far, four months into this whole thing he has made a big difference," Raney said. When asked if he believes the president can keep his promise Raney responded, "I think, so far, he has and we are looking forward to making sure that he does."

Back in April, Blackhawk Mining hosted a career fair as the company searched for 30 miners. General Manager Chuck Childers said that he believed they would be back looking for more employees in the months to come.

"It's too early, in my opinion, and I am just speaking for myself. I think it's too early to see any political implications I think you are seeing the world market start to rebound," Blackhawk General Manager Chuck Childrers said, "I think you are seeing hope within corporations and they are going ahead and banking on that as they grow and expand which helps us because they will need the coal to do it."

Many economists argue that Trump won't be able to keep his coal jobs promise, not for lack of trying, but because of market forces such as automation and the emergence of natural gas. Forbes magazine reported that six plants that relied on coal have closed since President Trump won in November and another 40 are projected to close during his four-year term.

Justin Addair is a father of four who was laid off from the coal mines four years ago.

He blames the Obama-era environmental regulations.

"They are looking for miners. It may not be a ton of miners but they are looking for miners, coal trucks are moving around. When I take my kids to the babysitter, I see coal trucks there I've never seen there before," Adair said.

The president didn't take office until the end of January, which means the first quarter numbers can't be 100 percent attributed to him.

A clearer picture will come when the second quarter comes to a close.

Based on both states' numbers for the first quarter of 2017, region-wide the industry has seen growth of 971 jobs.

The reporting process is different in both West Virginia and Kentucky. West Virginia's final 2016 numbers won't be available until August 2017. All of the reports are based on the information that is submitted to different state agencies. Companies are required to report, but from time to time those numbers can be delayed.



 
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