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Alpha: ‘We want the research to drive the agenda’

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In the second panel of the four Appalachia Research Initiative for Environmental Science, industry leaders touted their support of the research project.

Gene Kitts, senior vice president of environmental and regulatory affairs at Alpha Natural Resources, said Alpha's desire is to produce coal in a manner that is sustainable. He said the goal of the coal industry should be to "create shared value."

"At Alpha we're not just trying to keep up; we're trying to do more than is required," Kitts said. "Survival is a goal for a lot of companies in this industry. Succeeding is the goal at Alpha."

Kitts said that although the industry has faced a lot of negative data about its effect on the environment and its future, Alpha Natural Resources was one of the founding members of the Virginia Tech led-ARIES initiative because the company wanted to do something about potential issues brought about by the industry. Kitts said Alpha became involved with ARIES "to make sure all the questions are answered."

"The entire business of coal mining, as most types of mining, is founded in engineering. Engineering requires us to have fact-based approaches to solving problems, and we have to be very deliberative as we approach solving those problems, and we have to go into all the issues we are considering with an open mind."

Activists and other critics of ARIES have claimed the research is too dependent on industry funding. Kitts insisted companies have no contact with researchers outside of results updates and that ARIES is not "agenda-driven research," but companies instead "want the research to drive the agenda."

"We're going to live with those results," Kitts said. "… We don't know what we are going to find, but we agree we are going to address whatever is found and live with those results."

Katharine Fredericksen, senior vice president of environmental strategy and regulatory affairs at Consol Energy, also presented at the conference. Fredericksen said coal companies often aren't credited for their progress.

"We don't get credit for all we do in the energy industry," she said. "We spend a lot of money trying to solve complex problems. … The only thing you ever hear about is negative."

She said Consol has actively engaged in research and development to ensure coal can compete economically and environmentally in the future.

The ARIES Symposium in Charleston will continue through Wednesday.