Back in early May, President-Elect Donald Trump pledged to revive West Virginia’s coal industry and some school officials in Boone County say they are counting on this to help them keep schools open and save jobs. While it doesn’t need to be repeated here that this is highly unlikely (see here, here, here, and here), it is important, at least for posterity’s sake, and for those who believe it’s possible to revive the state’s coal industry, to see what that would have to look like.
According to the most recent forecast from West Virginia University, which does not include the now-unlikely implementation of the Clean Power Plan, the state is expected to extract under 80 million tons per year for the foreseeable future. Between 2000 and 2015, West Virginia produced between 98 million and 165 million tons of coal. The average tons produced over this period was approximately 144 million. Therefore it would be reasonable to surmise that for the coal industry in West Virginia to be revived production would have get back to at least 144 million tons per year. Or we could set the bar even lower and say coal production would need to return to at least 2015 levels or about 100 million tons per year.
Historically, coal mining has been a source of relatively high-paying jobs for those without college degrees in West Virginia. Its decline has been a major factor in the state’s budget woes and its weak economy. It remains to be seen how, and if, Donald Trump will keep the promise he made to West Virginia voters to bring back the coal mining jobs that have been lost over the past several years.