AP Enterprise: Appalachia faces steep coal decline

By DYLAN LOVAN | September 27, 2011 | 11:30 AM EDT

In this Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2011, photo, coal lies in piles around a conveyor system at a mine near Meta, Ky. Coal is deeply linked to the culture and economy in Central Appalachia but the industry is facing an expected collapse in production over the next few years. (AP Photo/Ed Reinke)

GARRETT, Ky. (AP) — Coal production has been dropping in the mining-rich regions of southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, prompting many business owners, politicians and miners to blame it on tougher regulation from the Obama administration.

But there's another factor at work in the region known as Central Appalachia. Its thick, easy-to-reach seams of coal are running out, forcing many operators to shift to more environmentally destructive mining methods that draw heavier regulation.

The U.S. Department of Energy is predicting a massive drop in production by 2015. By that year, it says, the amount of coal mined here will be just half of what it was in 2008. That's a significant loss of a signature Appalachian industry, and the jobs that come with it.