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Could Kentucky hemp replace coal?

Updated: Jan 17, 2019

Since Kentucky's first commercial coal mine opened in 1820, coal has gained both economic importance and controversy regarding its environmental consequences.

By the early 2000s, 8.36 billion tons of coal had been extracted from Kentucky. Employment in the coal industry has followed a steady decline since the 1980's. The number of workers declined over 60% from 1979 to 2006, as more mechanized underground mining methods became more widely used. The number of mines has also declined with environmental policies making Kentucky coal less desirable.

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Even with this decline, Kentucky ranked as the third highest coal producer in the United States at 80.5 million tons in 2013. The state supplies more than 10% of the country with coal for power plants. Coal's biggest economic impact has been low electric rates, which gives Kentucky a competitive advantage in attracting industry, including those with heavy energy demands such as aluminum smelters and automotive plants. Kentucky is one of the largest consumers of energy per capita in the nation.

Coal has been a substantial economic driver for our state, and continues to be. However, with the steady decline in employment and operating mines along with the demand for cleaner, renewable sources of energy, stronger economic sources of revenue and green jobs, its time to look at other options.

Coal mining is harmful to the environment, and it can result in the permanent loss of critical ecosystems. The removal of vegetation, and soil compaction from mining equipment contribute to stronger and more frequent flooding from storm runoff and erosion. Human health in counties involved in mountaintop mining is also suffering. In these communities, there are elevated rates for mortality and lung cancer as well as for chronic heart, lung and kidney disease. Even with reclamation and restoration, these threats do not appear to go away.

Not only is the coal industry leaving Kentuckians unemployed, it is poisoning the communities they live in. Hemp can provide clean, sustainable energy and jobs. It can be planted on reclaimed mine land to detoxify the soil and prevent erosion. There are pilot projects being conducted in Kentucky now that will measure how well hemp does at cleaning up these sites. We look forward to this research and hope to see coal communities implement hemp programs to rebuild their health, economy, and environment!


"Kentucky Coal Facts" (

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