As Obama Praises ‘Earth Day,’ Unemployment Soars in Coal Towns

Brittany M. Hughes | April 22, 2016
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On April 22, the day nationally recognized as “Earth Day,” President Obama took a moment to tout his presidential accomplishments in combating climate change and helping save the world from “some of the most devastating impacts of climate change, including more frequent and extreme droughts, storms, fires, and floods, as well as catastrophic increases in sea level.”

In a press release published on the White House’s website, Obama boasted:

We are committed to upholding our responsibility in the global effort to combat climate change and protect our planet, and my Administration has taken action to reduce our carbon pollution and lead the world in transitioning to a clean energy future. For example, we have made significant investments in clean energy -- since I took Office, the amount of electricity generated from wind energy has tripled, and the amount generated from solar energy has increased more than thirtyfold. Last year, I announced the first set of nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our country's power plants. To prepare for the impacts of climate change that we cannot prevent, we are working with States and cities to help communities build climate-resilient infrastructure.  And I have protected more public lands and waters than any other President in history -- more than 265 million acres.

There were, however, a few statistics the president omitted from his remarks praising his own accomplishments.

For example, when president Obama first took office in January of 2008, West Virginia’s Boone County, historically one of the nation’s largest producers of coal, had an unemployment rate of just 4.2 percent, nearly a full point lower than the national average of 5 percent.

In February of 2016, seven years into Obama’s presidency, Boone County was struggling under an unemployment rate of 11.3 percent – more than double the national rate of 4.9 percent – directly due to the sharp decline in coal and coal industry-related jobs.

The same statistics are repeatedly almost universally across Central Appalachia and other coal-producing communities across the country. West Virginia alone has seen the loss of about 35 percent of its coal-mining jobs since 2011 – jobs that, when lost, have devastating effects on local communities and dozens of jobs in other industries.

In February of this year, the unemployment rate in Logan, W. Va., was a staggering 12.8 percent, almost three times the 4.6 percent it was when Obama first took office.

In Wyoming County’s seat of Oceana, W. Va., the current unemployment rate hovers around 12 percent, up from 5.2 percent in January of 2008.

The unemployment rate in Pikeville, Ky., has shot up from 6.2 percent in January, 2008 to 12.6 percent last February. In the same time frame, the city of Harlan, Ky. saw its unemployment rate jump from an already-high rate of 9.7 percent to close to 14 percent in the first quarter of this year.

Prestonburg, Ky., currently sits at a 13.5 unemployment rate, up from its early 2008 rate of between 6 and 7 percent.

Although the tiny little coal mining towns across America seem to have been all but forgotten as they struggle under the direct effects of Obama’s new clean energy regulations,  the effects of the EPA’s onslaught against the coal industry still manages to make a few headlines. On April 13, Peabody Energy, the largest coal producer in the nation, announced they were filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy amid plummeting profits and mounting debt.

The 140-year-old company’s decision came just three months after Arch Coal, the second-largest coal producer in the U.S., announced they would be filing for bankruptcy following the closer of many of the company’s coal mines in recent years. More than 50 coal companies have filed for bankruptcy in the last few years year, including Patriot Coal, Alpha Natural Resources and Walter Energy just last year alone.

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