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New report assesses impact of coal mining's decline on Appalachia

Stephen Huba
| Friday, Jan. 26, 2018, 9:36 a.m.
Michele Beener (left), Rob Bottegal, Pete Merritts, Gov. Tom Wolf, Corsa Coal CEO George Dethlefsen and Joe Gallo cut the ribbon during Corsa Coal's grand opening of the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township, Somerset County, in June 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Michele Beener (left), Rob Bottegal, Pete Merritts, Gov. Tom Wolf, Corsa Coal CEO George Dethlefsen and Joe Gallo cut the ribbon during Corsa Coal's grand opening of the Acosta Deep Mine in Jenner Township, Somerset County, in June 2017.

What does the future hold for the coal regions of Appalachia now that coal is no longer king?

That's one question addressed in an extensive study released by the Appalachian Regional Commission and conducted by West Virginia University and the University of Tennessee.

The five-part “Economic Analysis of the Appalachian Coal Industry Ecosystem” is billed as the first comprehensive assessment of current and potential effects the changing coal industry can have on the Appalachian region, including Pennsylvania.

The federally funded research explores the impact of coal's decline on everything from supply-chain industries to electric power generation, from transportation to K-12 education funding.

“This research illustrates, with hard data, what many Appalachians in coal communities already know — coal miners, transportation systems and community resources all take an economic hit when the region's coal economy changes,” ARC Federal co-chair Earl F. Gohl said. “This study can help provide the foundation for identifying opportunities and strategies for building a more resilient regional economy.”

The five reports in the study are as follows:

• “An Overview of the Coal Economy in Appalachia” notes that coal production in the Appalachian region fell nearly 45 percent between 2005 and 2015, more than double the rate of the national decline during the same period.

• “County-Level CIE Supply Chain Analysis” examines the impact of the decline in coal production on supply-chain industries at the county level across Appalachia.

• “Transportation Implications of Coal” describes the direct economic relationship between the coal and railroad industries in Appalachia.

• “The Economic Impacts and Risks Associated with Electric Power Generation in Appalachia” provides a detailed examination of the economic impacts of changes in electric power generation in Appalachia between 2005 and 2015.

• “Human Capital and the CIE (coal industry ecosystem)” explores two economic issues in Appalachia: future employment prospects for coal workers and changes in funding for K-12 education.

President Trump has repeatedly said, as a candidate and as president, that he will bring back coal jobs to Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-1280, or via Twitter @shuba_trib.

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