Many unemployed miners blame President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency for their plight. They cited a series of regulations to tighten emissions rules for coal-burning power plants, which they believe amounts to what has popularly been called a "war on coal."
Most coal industry executives believe the stepped-up regulations have exacerbated a market depression brought about by new fracking technologies that have revolutionized natural gas drilling and made it possible to tap massive reservoirs of gas from deep shale layers.
Coal accounted for 39% of U.S. electricity generation through August of this year, compared to 27% for natural gas. In 2003, coal powered 51% of generation, compared to 17% for natural gas.
Utilities have frequently cited new emissions standards among reasons for closing aging coal-fired power plants. Roughly 9% of coal-fired capacity is slated for closure between 2013 and 2018, according to the EIA.
Alpha, the nation's third-largest coal operator by production and the biggest in Central Appalachia, has laid off 594 workers at Kentucky mines and related coal facilities since January 2012. It now operates 10 underground mines in the state, down from 23 underground and six surface mines in 2011. It also shut four facilities that process coal. (WSJ, 11/26/2013)