Coal, gas industries await effect of four more years of Obama - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Coal, gas industries await effect of four more years of Obama

Posted: Updated:

With another four years of President Barack Obama at the helm — a president West Virginia strongly rejected — what is to come of the West Virginia energy industry?

Republicans across the nation found allies in the coalfields when they pushed the notion Obama was waging a "war on coal." While there have been unsourced rumors suggesting the Environmental Protection Agency had been preparing to release new coal-related regulations, some energy officials are hopeful they can work with Obama in a way that is not detrimental to the coal industry.

"The one thing we are especially proud of is that the 2012 election will be remembered as the campaign for coal," said Lisa Miller, vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. "Millions of coal voters went out to the polls and will continue to be an important presence for not only this election, but for years to come."

The coal industry's favored candidate, Republican Mitt Romney, did not win. But in a way the industry did. Without a doubt, the industry thrust itself into the election in a way that appeared to have both candidates afraid to offend the oft-vilified industry.

"We certainly hope this next four years (Obama) recognizes the significance of the coal industry as part of the energy picture in this country," said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. 

Raney said he didn't think permits would have been any easier under a Romney presidency, but that the current administration should "quit bullying states and companies." He said he thought Romney would have introduced more predictability for the industry.

An energy plan that doesn't include West Virginia's coal resource, Raney said, is like Saudi Arabia not acknowledging it has oil. Specifically, Raney said he thinks despite the region-specific challenges of Appalachia coal, the area should still be viewed as a major energy player.

"Hopefully there will be some initiatives, some financing and funding of research projects that are trying to find the true value of coal and the fact that everybody in the world wants coal to build their economies on, and we should certainly use coal in this country to help our economy recover," Raney said. 

More Emphasis on Clean Coal?

Miller said clean coal technologies are the kinds of things coal companies continue to invest in already. She believes both candidates expressed positive feelings toward efforts to burn coal more cleanly and efficiently. 

"We're going to look forward to working with the administration and working with Congress and hopefully see comprehensive energy legislation that will set the course for action for the deployment of clean coal in our lifetime," Miller said. "… This is a great American industry. The coal industry is going to continue to make advancements not just in technology like carbon capture and storage, but in a variety of technologies."

One of the coal industry's most vocal opponents, the Sierra Club, touted the election of Obama, even if he has not delivered on all the issues it would have liked to see. Mary Anne Hitt leads the Beyond Coal campaign for the Sierra Club and lives in West Virginia. She said she is expecting "more of the same" with a second term that looks largely like the first four years.

"I think the coal industry has tried to paint Obama as anti-coal, but I think he's pretty centrist," Hitt said. "I think we're going to see more of the same — thoughtful, measured actions going after the worse of the pollution."

The problem for coal, Hitt said, is not the administration. What's harming the industry are market forces coupled with grassroots action sparked by the concerns of those living near coal extraction and burning sites. 

"What we need now is an actual honest conversation about coal and how we start diversifying our economy instead of trying to hide behind a lot of war on coal type of rhetoric," Hitt said. 

Hitt listed the five objectives for the Beyond Coal campaign now that the election is over: "Secure the retirement of one-third of the nation's coal plants; power the nation with record amounts of clean energy and energy efficiency; end mountaintop removal once and for all; close additional coal pollution loopholes; including long-overdue protections for carbon, soot, smog, coal ash, and water pollution; and prevent increased coal exports overseas to places where it will be burned with fewer pollution controls and no climate safeguards.

Without Romney in office, Hitt said the Sierra Club has a "fighting chance," though he may not have had the impact he or his supporters had suspected. 

"I don't necessarily think Romney could have turned the tide, but I think he would have tried," Hitt said. 

The National Mining Association's CEO Hal Quinn said the U.S. can be a valuable partner to the administration and nation to "pursue public policies that provide reliable, affordable energy and a dependable supply of minerals."

A Part of the Energy Mix

Jamie Van Nostrand, a West Virginia University professor and director of the College of Law's Center for Energy and Sustainable Development, said he thinks the EPA will continue to regulation greenhouse gas emissions and will, in terms of economic impact, be bad for West Virginia.

"I don't think this president likes coal, and he wants to go in a new direction," Nostrand said. 

He expects the Department of Energy to have a smaller budget, but to focus that mostly on renewable energy resources. 

"I think that's the contrast with Romney —  I was shocked when I read Romney's energy plan," Nostrand said. "It's clearly written by the Koch brothers; it's hostile to forms of new energy, doesn't like renewables, doesn't like funding for renewables and doesn't like subsidizing renewables. It's just drill baby, drill whether it's oil or natural gas, and also pandering to the coal votes in Ohio and Pennsylvania. But it's so backward looking." 

Van Nostrand, a "lifelong Republican," said he thinks Romney's energy plan was irresponsible. While the nation still needs coal, he said, Obama has been "too hostile to coal." 

"I'm torn between what's good for West Virginia as opposed to where I think the country ought to be heading, but I do think Obama's been a little too hard on coal. But I do think his ‘all of the above' option is best long term for West Virginia even though it may not be as great in the short term because it does dampen demand for coal," Nostrand said. 

Jerry Fletcher, a professor of resource economics and director of WVU's Natural Resource Analysis Center, said he doesn't see a lot of stability in the future but blaming coal's problems on Obama is misled. He blames the market and said it might be best to look to other uses for coal.

"I think coal is a very valuable resource but it might not just be for thermal energy anymore — it's a source of very complex hydrocarbons," Fletcher said. "China runs their whole petrochemical industry off of coal and we don't. We run it off petroleum, and that I don't think is necessarily the right approach."

Jeff Herholdt, director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, said he thought both candidates should "appreciate the arguments that coal needs to be recognized as a critical energy source."

"We can do a lot of stuff with energy; the issue is what does it cost us? Coal and natural gas represent affordable energy and that's fundamental to jobs and our economic competitiveness," Herholdt said. "And that really needs to be a central argument in how we advance our domestic energy. You really cannot make a market unless there is an economic opportunity."

Natural Gas Less Worried

The natural gas industry seemed less worried about Obama's re-election. Both candidates touted the development of domestic oil and gas. With a lot of excitement in new shale gas plays, including the Marcellus Shale in West Virginia, producers are expecting some more scrutiny than they may have seen under Romney. 

"I hope that going forward, we take the opportunity to use all of our energy sources in this country and we get to the place we've all talked about for decades — and that is energy dependence," said Corky DeMarco, executive director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. "… I can tell you, we have enough energy here. We don't need to import anymore."

DeMarco said he hopes the federal government will choose to offer guidance but stay out of regulation of the oil and gas industry. That, he said, is better left to the states.

Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber congratulated the president and also reached out to compromise with the president.

"Natural gas is revitalizing our nation's manufacturing base and giving our nation a more competitive position in the global economy, and as President Obama has said, ‘We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,'" Klaber said in an issued statement.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America's chairman Virginia Lazenby also was thankful to hear her industry spoken of favorably in this election cycle. However, she expressed a number of concerns, including repeal of oil and gas tax subsidies proposed by Obama, and over-regulation at the federal level. 

"We encourage the Obama administration to empower the states and implement a framework that allows independent producers to do what they do best — safely and responsibly find and develop American energy," Lazenby said. "If allowed to do so, oil and natural gas development will increase our nation's energy security, create much-needed jobs and give the American people the standard of life that petroleum creates."

Andrew Browning, the executive vice president of the Consumers Energy Alliance, said while both candidates came out favorably on natural gas, the regulation of controversial hydraulic fracturing techniques have yet to fully determine. He said the war on coal was a big issue, but it was not "enough to prevent Obama from carrying states like Ohio and Pennsylvania."

"Any type of economic recovery is going to be supported by energy production," Browning said. "They're finding ways to bridge — they definitely do not want to kill that goose lays the golden egg. It's going to be interesting to see how they move forward."

Mike Mikus, the mid-Atlantic director for CEA, said that while Obama won, the president should look carefully at the constituency that did not approve of his first term. 

"Barack Obama won handily, but he lost pretty badly in a lot of the coal-producing counties in West Virginia. … Some of those counties were by pretty wide margins," Mikus said. "… I think people are concerned. Nobody can read the tea leaves, but I think people in these regions, coal-producing regions, and natural gas producing regions are worried that there will be more regulations they believe will impact jobs and hurt economies."

Energy reporter Pam Kasey contributed to this story. She can be reached at pkasey@statejournal.com.