Coal Downturn Hammers Budgets in West Virginia and Wyoming – by Kris Maher and Dan Frosch (Wall Street Journal – December 23, 2015)

VAN, W.Va.—Chris West has given up on coal.

In the past year, the 42-year-old former miner was laid off by a company that later filed for bankruptcy and another that has gone out of business.

Mr. West lives in a hilly region here where the conveyor belts at massive roadside mining complexes have gone still, prompting local governments to plan cuts to schools, trash collection and other services.

“Everything here is depressed,” said Mr. West, who lost his car after he couldn’t make monthly payments and is struggling to put a daughter through college. After training for three months to be an emergency medical technician, he now makes $15 an hour, 40% less than his mining pay. “I don’t see coal ever coming back as strong as it was.”

The governors of West Virginia and Wyoming, the nation’s top two coal-producing states, are also trying to make ends meet. Amid a steep coal downturn caused by competition with cheap natural gas, lower overseas demand and tougher environmental rules, depressed coal-related tax revenues are helping to throw the finances of the two states into turmoil.

Other big coal-producing states, from Utah to Illinois to Alabama, have lost jobs and revenue, but a heavier dependence on the commodity in West Virginia and Wyoming is linking the fates of two places whose culture and geography are vastly different.

In West Virginia, officials project a $250 million state budget deficit for the current fiscal year, including $190 million from plummeting coal-tax revenue. Coal severance taxes collected by the state are down 40% since July 1, compared with last year, as production and prices fall.

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