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There is a war on coal, Republicans are telling the public.
The story line took center stage during a mid-August campaign stop for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in Belmont County. With coal miners standing behind him, Romney attacked the Obama administration saying the Democratic president was developing alternative energy at the expense of the coal industry and heavy-handed in regulating the energy resource.
Charges that Democrats have hurt the coal industry have spread to Ohio Senate's race, too. During a U.S. Senate debate held by the City Club of Cleveland on Oct. 16, a questioner asked incumbent Democrat Sherrod Brown how he could support jobs and cheaper energy in Ohio while backing a president that has declared war on coal.
Brown fired back saying the "war on coal" rhetoric is empty.
"There is no war on coal. Period. There are more coal jobs and more coal produced in Ohio than there were five years ago, in spite of the talking points and the yard signs," he told the audience.
Has coal production and the number of coal mining jobs in Ohio really gone up during the time Obama has been in office? PoltiFact Ohio got out the pickaxes and started digging for facts.
First, we turned to Brown's campaign to find out the source of Brown's information.
Brown campaign spokesman Justin Barasky sent us some information from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources annual coal reports showing that production in 2010 was 28,364,000 tons compared to 22,283,072 tons in 2007. Those same ODNR-produced reports show the monthly employment average for coal mining jobs in Ohio in 2010 was 2,879, compared to a monthly average of 2,204 in 2007.
With the 2011 state coal report due out any day, ODNR spokeswoman Heidi Hetzel-Evans was able to tell us that the 2011 report will show that Ohio produced about 27,929,089 tons of coal--a slight drop from the 2010 data that Brown was basing his comment on. Coal mining jobs in Ohio in 2011 were up over the previous year with an average of 2,995 a month, and obviously, both are well ahead of 2007 figures.
PolitiFact Ohio also checked with the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which provided a second source of data with even more recent numbers. The EIA estimates coal production for every state on a weekly basis and the October 13 report showed Ohio coal production so far this year up about 1.9 percent over last year.
For the most recent 12 months, from October 13, 2011, to October 13, 2012, Ohio has produced about 28,456,000 tons of coal. That matches up fairly closely with the ODNR reports and certainly shows that there hasn't been any fall off in coal production in Ohio in recent months.
We also looked for a second source on the coal mining jobs numbers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps a Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages which tracks job numbers in specific industries. For Ohio, the census data showed an average of 2,570 coal mining jobs statewide in 2011.
That's almost 30 percent higher than 2007 when the bureau showed only 2,010 coal mining jobs in Ohio. Counted in those statistics are jobs related to the actual mining of coal as well as developing coal mining sites and preparing the coal such as cleaning and screening the coal to be sold.
So why has production of Ohio's high-sulfur coal increased in the last few years?
Coal industry analysts generally attribute the jump in coal production to an increase in exports to overseas markets such as China and India, which need coal for cheap energy and to use in the steel-making process.
So after mining for facts what are we left with?
In defending the Democratic record on coal during a debate, Sherrod Brown said coal production and coal jobs in Ohio are up compared to five years ago. After consulting with state and federal statistics, it appears that jobs and coal production in Ohio have increased compared to 2007 levels by every measurement we could find.
On the Truth-O-Meter, Browns' statement rates True.
E-mail from Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Sherrod Brown for Senate campaign, Oct. 17, 2012
E-mail from Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Oct. 25, 2012
Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 2007 Annual Report, Ohio Mineral Industries: An Annual Summary of the State's Economic Geology
Ohio Department of Natural Resources, 2010 Annual Report, Ohio Mineral Industries: An Annual Summary of the State's Economic Geology
U.S. Energy Information Administration, Weekly Coal Production Reports by State
U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages
Oregon Public Radio, interview with coal industry journalist Darren Epps
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