The WV Coal Seam

Your Source for News and Information About West Virginia's Coal Industry

Despite Challenges, West Virginia’s Coal Industry will Survive  

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By BILL RANEY, president
West Virginia Coal Association

Despite challenging times, West Virginia coal is proud

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Bill Raney, WVCA President

to continue to be a major contributor to the State’s economy with its coal being mined by more than 12,000 of the best coal miners in the world, and its use in the efficient and compliant coal-based electric generating plants throughout the State.  We are passionate about doing everything possible to protect our people’s jobs and making sure we continue to be a significant component of our economy.  While we have experienced declining production over the past few years, we are blessed with some of the finest coal in the world and we continue to be the nation’s second leading coal-producing state in the country.

However, we need help as do the other coal-producing states across Appalachia since the industry in West Virginia, and those states surrounding us, is experiencing as challenging of times as anytime in our lifetimes.  Folks point to several reasons for this downturn in production and market, but none are greater than the anti-coal policies of this current federal administration.

While there have historically been ups and downs in the cycle of business, this time is different because our own federal government has never had “its boot on our throat” like they have for the past seven and half years! That negative government interference has created a perfect storm of paralyzing pressures that have taken and continue to threaten the jobs of our people, the mining of our coal, the reliability of America’s electric grid and the very security of our country.

Some want to point to the geologic and geographic challenges resulting from 150 years of mining high-quality bituminous coal that fueled American victories in the World Wars and conflicts of the 20th century as well as the industrial revolution that provided the strong basis for the United States to become the true leader of the free world.  Or, they want to point to the oversupply of natural gas that keeps its price low.  While each of these has a part, the real, overwhelming factor most directly affecting our ability to mine and use more West Virginia coal is, unquestionably, the anti-coal policies of our own federal government. This, in itself, is puzzling and amazing since America has more coal reserves than any other country in the world.

It is only logical to think the federal government, which has, for years, cried for energy security and energy independence, would do everything possible to promote the extraction and use of our most prolific resource.  If there are problems with its extraction or its use, one would, again, logically expect the government to undertake meaningful research and incentives to be sure America would be the world leader in extraction technology, safety and clean-coal based energy usage.

Can anyone imagine Saudi Arabia, Iraq or any of the other Middle Eastern countries treating their oil reserves the way this government is treating American coal reserves?

We will only be able to enhance our production through the increased marketability of our coal and that is all about the cost of production and the ability of our coal to compete domestically and internationally, particularly since we are competing with other countries that mine similar coals, but do not meet American environmental and safety standards.

We’re not asking for nor would we ever seek a diminution of safety or environmental standards as nothing is more important than the well-being of our professional miners and the health and welfare of their families.  However, practicality, as practiced in other states, must be injected into the current policies and laws in effect today as well as those being proposed for the future.

Our coal miners are the best practicing environmentalists in the world as they do everything they can each day to protect the environment they work and live in throughout West Virginia.  We are confident our operations are among the best, if not the best, in the world, from an environmental achievement and safety accomplishment standpoint.

Thanks to our Legislature recognizing the out-of-step cost challenges we face in marketing our coal, there has been a great deal of progress achieved with the laws, regulations and policies in the last two years, here in West Virginia.  However, it is critical that progress with our laws, regulations and policies continue to be made so as to do everything possible to insure they mirror those in the other coal-producing and coal-using states so as to achieve that ever-elusive “level playing field” for cost competitiveness.

We’ll be sure these state-level changes will not diminish nor detract from our desire to be the best in safety and environmental protections, but the changes will allow us to continue to operate so we can improve each day and keep our people working, contributing to their communities and State of West Virginia.

There remains plenty of opportunity for our longtime contributions to continue.  According to the West Virginia Geologic and Economic Survey in Morgantown, West Virginia has some 50 billion tons of remaining coal reserves.  Since we began keeping records, we have mined some 14 billion tons of coal in West Virginia, so we literally have hundreds of years of coal we can mine and continue contributing to the State’s well-being and America’s energy security well into the future.

The ingenuity and devoted work ethic of our miners and managers will find answers to the geologic and geographic challenges, and to the oversupply of natural gas which will likely develop its own set of challenges, but for us to realize that future the behavior and proposed regulations of this federal administration has got to change. This federal administration and the next one have to understand that a working West Virginian is a healthier West Virginia and that our people want to work right here, not in North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia or Florida.  They want to remain here doing what they do best, mining and using West Virginia coal, so they can raise their families where they were raised.

Our miners will protect the streams and mountains, because it’s the ones they fished and hunted when they were growing up and they want their children and grandchildren to have the same rewarding benefit.  There cannot be a higher level of protection than that familial preservation.

We have to create a mechanism that prompts an increased use of West Virginia coal in our West Virginia power plants, but one that does not affect the revenues of the state.  An additional sixteen million tons of West Virginia production would be a tremendous benefit to keep more of our people working.  Similarly, but every bit as challenging, we need to figure a way to reduce the severance tax on West Virginia coal so we can hopefully make up the revenue differences by being more competitive and being able to sell more of our coal.

We will make every effort to work with everyone to reach a reasonable solution to this issue.  However, our biggest problem today is, as mentioned earlier, is the attitude and behavior of our own federal government toward our coal miners and our industry.  There are specific federal issues that need to be changed, reversed and retracted, but the over-reaching problem is the lack of respect shown to our professional coal miners and managers by this administration.

Previous administrations had respect for the West Virginia and American coal miners and managers — and the tremendous job they do every day. The Bushes, Clintons, Reagans, Carters and Nixons, all the way back to President Truman– each of them and their administrations knew that America has more coal than any other country in the world, and they recognized the tremendous contributions West Virginia coal miners – America’s coal miners — made to improve the quality of life of Americans everywhere.  Each of those previous administrations sought to strengthen our country through the electrification of America with coal-powered electricity.

They each knew that our coal provided the reliable, low cost electricity that became the envy of the world, dependable feedstock for domestic steel as well as America’s manufacturing, chemical and technology industries.  They didn’t favor one region over another. They didn’t favor one fuel over another, they were simply depending on the one that would most likely bring energy security for America and improved lifestyles for all Americans.  We must regain that “respect.”

We must recognize the tremendous progress that’s been made with power generation in our state and across the nation. Our utilities and our citizens have taken the lead over the past ten years, providing enhanced air quality, efficient generation and state-of-the-art technologies in a concerted effort to preserve West Virginia jobs and perpetuate our peoples’ health.  Since 2005, in West Virginia, one of our major coal-burning utilities has reduced SO2 by 70 percent, NOx by 64 percent and, unbeknownst to many, CO2 has been reduced by 21 percent!  Our other major coal-burning utility has made similar strides in state-of-the-art technology.  But, of course, none of that progress is recognized by this current federal administration, all to the demise of our people and the economy of our state.

We promise to do everything possible to protect and preserve our people’s jobs, our operations, our power plants and our way of life. We have the support of our Governor, our Attorney General, our Legislative and Congressional leaders as well as many members of the Legislature and many citizens across the state and the nation. With your help and prayers, we will do everything within our power to continue to be as big a part of West Virginia’s economy as possible.

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Author: T.L.

I am a veteran communications professional specializing in the coal and energy sectors. I hold an MBA in management/finance and an MA in public relations/journalism. I am a 2001 graduate of Leadership West Virginia and I have completed the Community Development Institute -- East, where I qualified to sit for professional certification in economic development.

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