CHARLESTON (AP) - A report by the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy suggests the state is likely to continue losing coal jobs through 2020.
Center policy analyst Sean O'Leary estimated that coal employment in southern West Virginia would fall from about 16,000 in 2010 to 11,400 in 2020 before rebounding to 20,500 by 2035.
In northern West Virginia, O'Leary says the number of jobs would nearly double over the 25-year span to nearly 10,000 in 2035.
"The coal industry in West Virginia, particularly Southern West Virginia, will be dramatically changing, and soon," O'Leary said in the report. "That's why it is so important to ask questions like, 'What is the effect on employment?' and prepare for that transition."
The center has proposed the formation of a task force to help communities look for economic alternatives to coal mining, among other things.
Federal government forecasts show steep production declines over the next decade, especially in West Virginia and Kentucky.
O'Leary said that in 2010, about 27 percent of the coal mined in central Appalachia was high-priced steel-making coal. That share is expected to increase to more than 50 percent over the next few years.
"This means that even if production costs rise in Central Appalachia due to falling productivity with more miners mining less coal, it may be feasible to mine Central Appalachian coal at a profit, due to the growing prominence of the more valuable premium metallurgical coal," O'Leary said.