By Justin Strawser
July 17, 2017 - Over the decade from 2006 to 2016, coal mining and its support jobs were down 37.6 percent, a drop of more than 3,100 jobs, according to data from the state Department of Labor and Industry provided by Deputy Communications Director Lindsay Bracale.
In the past five years, from 2011 and 2016, coal mining and support jobs were down by 43.6 percent, a drop of more than 4,000 jobs, according to the data.
"The most precipitous decline in the last ten years happened between 2015 and 2016, in which nearly 2,000 jobs were lost," Bracale said.
President Trump on the campaign trail and during the first six months of his presidency expressed support for the coal industry, promising that out-of-work miners and struggling companies will soon be back on the job and finding relief. Trump has also rolled back regulations from the previous administration.
Although coal jobs are down, the demand is up for both anthracite coal, at 18 percent, and bituminous coal, at 21 percent, according to Duane Feagley, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Anthracite Counsel, based in Pottsville.
"There's more confidence with the industry in general, but there's also caution," Feagley said. "Some of it has to do with coal mining operators having more certainty. That's a direct result of the leadership in DC and regulations being rolled back. That creates less anxiety and more certainty in the market. Overall, the economy is picking up as well, creating more of a demand."
In the first quarter of 2017, the industry produced 500,000 tons of anthracite coal and 12.074 million tons of bituminous. Comparatively, in the first quarter of 2016, the industry produced 424,000 tons of anthracite coal and 9.901 million tons of bituminous coal, according to the Energy Information Administration.
As far as jobs go, Feagley said the anthracite industry is "holding steady" with approximately 1,000 coal jobs and approximately 3,000 support jobs in Pennsylvania right now.
In June, Gov. Tom Wolf attended the opening of Corsa Coal’s Acosta mine in Jenner Township, Somerset County, that will produce fuel for manufacturing and lead to hundreds of new jobs headed to the region, directly and indirectly.
“By helping to fund this project, Pennsylvania is investing in this community and the project shows how the diversity of Pennsylvania’s economy makes it a great place to build and grow a business,” said Wolf in statement. “This mine will help to support this community and its workforce, by providing jobs and opportunity to an area that needs both and I want to thank Corsa for its commitment to Western Pennsylvania.”
The Acosta mine, located in Jenner Township Somerset County, is expected to bring nearly 100 direct full-time jobs and an estimated 500 indirect jobs to western Pennsylvania. The mine is projected to produce 400,000 tons of metallurgical coal per year that will be sold to steel companies in the United States, Asia, Europe, and South America. The project has been funded in part through a $3 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant to support the development of a new deep mine facility.
"We at Corsa Coal are grateful for the Governor’s support as we open the Acosta Deep mine," Corsa Coal CEO George Dethlefsen said. "Coal miners and the state government are partners in business, as we have a shared commitment to jobs, safety and environmental protection. This mine will provide a much-needed economic boost to the region for years to come.”
In order to look at more current information, Bracale said a different data set that does not have as much detail – Current Employment Statistics – must be consulted. This data set does not have data for support activities for coal mining, but it does have coal mining itself, which in May 2017 was essentially unchanged from May 2016. The additions of 100 jobs may be due to rounding, Bracale said.
The definition for support activities is as follows: "This U.S. industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing support activities for coal mining (except site preparation and related construction activities) on a contract or fee basis. Exploration for coal is included in this industry. Exploration includes traditional prospecting methods, such as taking core samples and making geological observations at prospective sites.”
"Some examples of companies that this are ones that provide contract blasting services, drilling services, tunneling services, training, draining or pumping of coal mines, and exploration for coal," Bracale said. "This isn’t all-inclusive, but it covers a good bit of what is included."
Stacie Snyder, the site administrator for the Northumberland/Snyder/Union counties PA CareerLink in Sunbury, said no coal companies are currently partnered with the job-seeking organization. More than a year ago, some companies were hiring truck drivers and blasters, but there's no demand now.
"We haven't had much activity within the past year," Snyder said. "One employer kept a position open for blasters, but there's not too much movement. Nothing for related jobs either. It's been pretty slow."
Snyder said the CareerLink did work with one company for job training for a blaster position.
Bob Garrett, president/CEO of Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce, said a handful of coal company owners have expressed the need for employees. Last year, the GSV Chamber absorbed the Brush Valley Chamber of Commerce, which served what is commonly known as the Coal Region in eastern Northumberland County.
Don Alexander, the planning and economic director for Northumberland County, said he is frequently in touch with coal and coal-related industries in the county, but hasn't heard much of a demand for jobs.
"At least in the foreseeable future, there's a stabilization of coal companies, those that found other uses besides burning coal," Alexander said. "I'm not seeing signs the downward trend will continue. There seems to be stabilization."