FRANKFORT (AP) — There are fewer coal jobs in Kentucky than there have been in more than 115 years, a report said as politicians in the state look for other opportunities for their constituents.
A recent quarterly report from the state Energy and Environment Cabinet revealed that the number of coal jobs statewide dropped by 6.9 percent from April to June of this year, news outlets reported.
In western Kentucky, coal jobs dropped 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2016 while the number of jobs in the state’s eastern region dropped 6.1 percent during that same time.
As of July 1, the estimated number of coal jobs remaining in Kentucky was 6,465, which officials said is the lowest mark since 1898, before the extension of railroads allowed for explosive growth in production and jobs in eastern Kentucky.
A switch to natural gas, stricter federal regulations on coal designed to preserve the environment and the advance of renewable energy have contributed to the industry’s plunge.
The Shaping Our Appalachian Region (SOAR) initiative, which formed from a partnership between 54 counties, is hoping to replace the loss of coal jobs by attracting technology businesses, The Independent of Ashland reported.
U.S. Rep. Hal Rogers told SOAR members during its annual meeting in June that “coal is not dead” but “there’s never been a greater necessity for . finding ways to supplement the coal industry.”
But before eastern Kentucky can turn into what Rogers and other officials hope will be recognized as “Silicon Holler,” the region will have to boost its high-speed internet access.
Most of eastern Kentucky’s broadband “block groups” don’t have access to the federal minimum download speed of 25 megabytes per second, according to Roberto Gallardo of the Intelligent Community Institute at Mississippi State University.