Did you know it took three times the number of miners in 1959 to produce the same amount of coal in West Virginia in 2014.
That’s right. In 1959, it took 52,352 miners to produce 117,770,002 million tons of coal. In 2014, it took 18,159 miners to produce 116,900,040 million tons.
Today, the state’s coal industry finds itself seven years into a downturn in production. Direct coal mining employment has also fallen from nearly 23,000 miners in 2008 to just 16,000 in 2015.
Clearly, the decline of the coal industry extends further than direct jobs and production.
Using one accepted economic multiplier some 35,000 other jobs have also disappeared.
That’s a world of bad news, especially if you insist on ignoring this canary, that’s still counting, but stopped singing the praises of coal long ago.
So, what do we do? If you’re a member of our congressional delegation you keep doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
But it doesn’t take an Einstein to realize that despite the political promises, the rollback of regulations and the gutting of environmental agencies, that markets and technology will still have the last word.
If we could put hydro-fracking back in the bottle, stop research and development in alternative energy, fatten coal seams and provide easier access to them, and stop alienating international buyers that would help.
It would also help if we could convince state coal-fired power plants to buy more than half of their coal from West Virginia.
Also, since every little bit helps, if more than 30 percent of us would heat our homes with electricity from those coal-fired plants that would help, too.
The point is resuscitating our state’s coal industry will take a miracle.
One idea though that might just give us a jolt recently arose in Gov. Jim Justice’s State of the State Address: Raise revenue to pay for road bonds.
We know, taxes, fees and tolls are a job killer and no one can afford them.
Maybe, but we suspect the burden and lack of adequate infrastructure costs us a lot more.
Measures to allow the state to invest $1 billion in our roads and bridges is smart.
Not to mention it spreads out the cost of those bonds and would create 25,000 jobs.
The coal industry once served as this state’s road map. But if we insist on staying on this route it’s as good as taking a wrong turn and to keep going.
It’s time to change the road we’re on.