A recent government study predicts coal production in Southern West Virginia could drop as much as 60% in the coming decade.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration says coal production in Central Appalachia will decline from 186 million tons this year to 75 million in the next ten years. Meanwhile, production is expected to increase 30% in Northern Appalachia, which includes Ohio and Pennsylvania. The West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy says there are a number of factors, including growth in natural gas demand and competition from other regions.
"By far, the biggest problem is competition from other regions and competition from natural gas and the fact that coal in Southern West Virginia is declining because of thinner seems as well," says Ted Boettner of the Center on Budget & Policy.
But the West Virginia Coal Association says while they agree there will be a production decrease, it'll more likely be gradual than what the predicted study says.
One impact will be on the coal severance tax for counties. Raleigh and McDowell, got more than $350,000 for production between July and September, and Logan County got nearly $800,000. This money's used to help fund schools and fire departments and other outside groups.
"Outside agencies might be the Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Public Service Districts, community centers, food banks, repairs to a baseball field somewhere. Those are some of the things we do with those dollars," says Fayette Co. Commissioner Matthew Wender.
Less coal means less money for these groups. It can also mean less jobs and money pumping in to local economies like McDowell County.
"They're not going to be able to buy as much gas, buy as many cars, they're not going to buy as much food. So, everybody's going to suffer until the economy rebounds," says Del. Clif Moore of McDowell County.