Can We Keep Coal Miners Both Safe and Employed?


Recently, the AP reported that ten coal miners have died on the job to date this year, compared to a record low of eight deaths last year, leading industry stakeholders quibbling about what to do. Groups are arguing whether the focus should be more on training, or on the enforcement of safety violations.

The tech news site Gizmodo is offering a third talking point – asking whether it’s possible to put coal miners back to work, however, not in coal mines – but rather in clean energy.

The report addresses the fact that around 50,000 people are now employed in coal mines in the U.S – fewer than in any other time in modern history – but that solar and wind farms are booming, adding 15,000 and 50,000 jobs respectively in the U.S. in just the last year.

The simple solution seems to be pairing out-of-work miners with jobs in the renewables industry, but Gizmodo says it’s more complicated than it. First, there is a geographic “mismatch”—industries like solar tend towards sunny locations such as California, which are also supportive in their policies on electricity costs and incentives. States with abundant coal reserves, like Kentucky for example, have the kind of cheap energy that provides consumers and policymakers no incentive to switch towards renewables.

Other problems involve training – new skills are needed and often the costs are burdensome for out-of-work miners. And what if we relied on states to pitch in for the cost? Well, an engineering professor from the Michigan Technological University has estimated the cost of retraining coal workers for the solar industry and said it could cost the five most coal-dependent states upwards of $1.1 billion.

Foxconn Chooses Michigan for Autonomous Tech R&D HubNext Story »