Last year’s election featured a pretty heated debate on the future of coal in America. Many living in the Pittsburgh area, where I reside, weren’t too happy with President Obama’s attitude toward coal, as evidenced by the yard signs. With so many jobs tied to its production, they simply wanted the war against coal to end so that the high-paying jobs that it produced would stay in the region.
While coal producers are feeling the pinch and the coal industry has been a job killer in terms of domestic consumption, there is some hope. Coal exporst have been booming. In fact, exports have more than doubled since 2008 and growth in coal exports are only expected to grow in the future thanks to demand overseas as well as the availability of additional export capacity.
As it turns out the coal export market is really carrying a lot of weight these days for one of President Obama’s initiatives, the National Export Initiative. That initiative’s goal was to renew and revitalize our efforts as a nation to promote and increase our exports around the world. Coal companies have taken full advantage of both demand overseas and our nation’s increasingly pro-export stance. In fact, just this past February, the Bipartison Policy Center recommended that coal exports not be restricted because of the net economic benefits exports produced.
Not only is that great for U.S.-based coal producers but it’s huge for jobs. According to Ernst & Young, exporting coal creates high value jobs with wages that are on average $96,100 per year. For perspective, the average U.S. worker rakes in about $64,000 per year. One thing job seekers should note is that many coal producers are finding it more difficult to find the skilled employees needed to replace its current workforce as it nears retirement. That could signal that wages will head even higher in the future.
Overall, coal exports contributed about 141,270 jobs to the U.S. economy in 2011. This included about 39,350 direct jobs at mines, transportation companies, and at our ports as well as over 100,000 indirect jobs. It’s believed that for every million tons of coal we export the industry requires about 1,320 jobs.
For Pennsylvania, where I live, it’s estimated that coal exports contribute about 12,500 jobs to the economy as well as about $1.5 billion in economic value. These jobs are found at major Pittsburgh-based employers like CONSOL Energy Inc. (NYSE:CNX) which is the largest producer of coal east of the Mississippi River. In Pennsylvania alone the company supports 2,635 employees in both its gas and coal businesses, some of which are employed to support the 10.3 million tons of coal that the company exports.