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Dramatic decreases in Appalachian coal production over the past decade have put many regional industries at risk for economic decline, according to joint research released today by the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and West Virginia University.

The report, An Economic Analysis of the Appalachian Coal Industry Ecosystem, is the first comprehensive assessment of the current and potential effects the changing coal industry may have on the Appalachian region. The research was funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the US Economic Development Administration.

UT’s interdisciplinary team included researchers from the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research in the Haslam College of Business, the Center for Transportation Research in the Tickle College of Engineering, and the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.

Matt Murray
Matt Murray

“Appalachia’s coal production has been in long-term decline, and the last decade brought more devastation to the region,” said Matt Murray, director of the Baker Center and associate director of the Boyd Center. “Steps need to be taken to find alternative engines of economic development since the coal industry is not expected to see a significant rebound.”

The research, presented in five reports, explores some of the current and future economic effects of declining coal production on various components of Appalachia’s coal industry ecosystem, including supply chain industries, electric power generation, and transportation, as well as funding implications for K-12 education as the region’s tax base weakens.

The findings suggest that as the effects of declining coal production ripple through the Appalachian region, the impact will extend far beyond the areas where coal is produced to reach communities throughout Appalachia.

“This research illustrates with hard data what many Appalachians in coal communities already know: coal miners, transportation systems, and community resources all take an economic hit when the region’s coal economy changes,” said Earl F. Gohl, ARC federal co-chair. “This study can help provide the foundation for identifying opportunities and strategies for building a more resilient regional economy.”

Randall Jackson, director of the Regional Research Institute for WVU, said the research focuses on how the coal economy has played out in our region, including its direct contributions, its supply chain relations with other industries such as transportation and energy generation, its implications for future industrial development, and the wide-ranging impacts on education and human capital.

“It offers a valuable foundation for addressing many of the challenges facing Appalachia in the coming years,” he said.

Media Coverage: KY Forward, Jan. 31; Coal Zoom, Jan. 29; The Rural Blog, Jan. 27; Tribune Review, Stephen Huba, Jan. 26; The Lane Report, Jan. 25; WATE, Jan. 30

Ohio Valley ReSource, Becca Schimmel, Feb. 2 (also ran on WKMS, WFPL, WEKU, WKU Public Radio, West Virginia Public Broadcasting); News Sentinel, Jim Gaines, Feb. 4 (also ran in Coal Zoom)

Power, Aaron Larson, March 1 (also ran in Coal Zoom); The Register-Herald, Matt Combs, March 4 (also ran on Coal Zoom); The Herald-Dispatch, Fred Pace, March 25


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