Energy Secretary Peters says 'structural changes' in coal industry not good for Eastern Ky.

03/19/2013 04:59 PM

The mining industry in Eastern Kentucky might not be able to bounce back from its recent slide even as coal production in Western Kentucky continues to chug along, said Len Peters, the secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Simple economics seems to be at the heart of a systemic problem with Eastern Kentucky’s future in mining (watch the interview below). That’s one of the reasons why Pike County is no longer the coal capital of Kentucky. Union County has surpassed it in production.

“There’s a lot of debate going on within my staff … We’re asking the question ‘Are there some structural changes going on in Eastern Kentucky?’” Peters said. Find out what he means by that at 2:00 of the interview.

Part 1 Peters explains why Western Kentucky coal has fared better and what’s next for the industry:

Production in Central Appalachian coal has dropped 16 percent in the last year. Thousands of miners have been laid off in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia.

Peters isn’t the only one who has publicly come to the conclusion that Eastern Kentucky’s mining industry won’t be able to fully rebound from its current slump.

Rep. Leslie Combs, D-Pikeville, said on on Pure Politics last month that she didn’t think it would return “to levels we’ve been used to in times past,” which has officials scrambling for an economic backup plan.

Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, spoke about that same subject last week on NPR’s Talk of the Nation .

“We’re seeing a loss of production, a loss of jobs and literally people hurting when you look at Eastern Kentucky and also in my home state of West Virginia,” Bissett said. “Conversely, you look at our western coal field, which is Illinois Coal Basin, it’s booming.”

(Watch the site on Wednesday for Part 2 of the interview in which Peters talks about what’s next for Eastern Kentucky’s role in energy production.)

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