Appalachian coal production was down 7.7 percent in the first half of 2012, according to the U.S. Energy and Information Administration. McCown noting that four years ago, the boom-and-bust industry was enjoying a boom. Since then, coal-company share prices have plummeted. Shares of Alpha Natural Resources, Virginia's largest coal firm and one of the largest in the country, are now selling for just $8; they sold for more than $40 at the same time last year. Alpha spokesman Ted Pile told McCown cheap natural gas, a mild winter and "burdensome regulations" from the Environmental Protection Agency have caused the coal bust.
Though company representatives almost always say the regulations are hurting production, coalfield politicians in McCown's story were more likely to blame Washington than were company representatives or miners. "The negative impact of growing regulation by the EPA has become the battle cry among Republicans campaigning in coal country this year," McCown reports. Sierra Club Virginia Chapter President Glen Besa told McCown that blaming the EPA for mining job losses is "merely political," adding that the lack of a diversified economy in Appalachia is the "underlying cause" of the economic downturn in the coalfields. (Read more)