Although the state’s coal industry continued to shed jobs from April through June, the decline was not as steep as in the first three months of the year, according to a report released Monday.
The number of jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent. That left estimated employment in the industry at 6,465 miners on July 1, according to the report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet.
The decline continued a downward track that has left the state with the fewest miners since 1898, before the extension of railroads opened the way for explosive growth in production and jobs in Eastern Kentucky in the early 1900s.
In Eastern Kentucky, coal jobs dropped by 6.1 percent in the second quarter of the year, after a first-quarter drop of 21.6 percent.
Coal jobs in the region have plummeted since 2011. In the second quarter that year, coal employment in Eastern Kentucky averaged 13,695 people, according to the cabinet.
The average for the same period this year was 3,764, a drop of nearly 75 percent in five years.
Analysts cite a number of factors combining to sap demand for coal, including competition for power-plant customers from cheap natural gas; tougher federal rules to protect air and water quality, which create an advantage for cleaner-burning gas; and the growth of renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power.
Eastern Kentucky also faces a particular challenge because many of the thickest seams have been mined out, creating higher costs to mine what’s left.
In Western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent from April through June.
Statewide, the number of tons of coal produced went down 13.1 percent. The decline in Western Kentucky was 12.3 percent; it was 14.3 percent in Eastern Kentucky.
Production in the state’s eastern coalfield was the lowest since 1915, the report said.