WV coal industry says battling ‘perfect storm’ - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

WV coal industry says battling ‘perfect storm’

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By JAMES CASTO

For The State Journal

The state’s coal industry remains a mainstay of the Mountain State economy but is battling a “perfect storm” of challenges, says Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

Speaking to members of the Barboursville Rotary Club in a May 14 appearance, Hamilton noted that the state’s coal industry and electric utilities account for 60 percent of all the business taxes collected in West Virginia. Coal, he said, generates 15.3 percent of the revenue in the state budget and accounts for 11.3 percent of the state’s workforce.

But both production and employment in the state’s coal industry have declined sharply in the past five years. The state’s coal production has plummeted by 28 percent, from 165 million tons in 2008 to 119 million tons in 2013. And that same period has seen more than 100 West Virginia coal mines close and more than 3,500 miners lose their jobs. “Add in western Virginia and eastern Kentucky and you’re talking about 10,000 lost jobs in the region,” Hamilton said.

An uncertain economic mood has helped contribute to that decline, he said, as has a decline in the price of natural gas which has rendered it more competitive with coal.

But without a doubt, Hamilton told the Rotarians, the biggest threat to West Virginia’s coal industry is coming from Washington, where President Obama and the Environmental Protection Agency have mounted an unprecedented attack on coal. “We’ve never had to deal with a president like this one,” he said.

Coal-fired power plants being forced to close and the latest EPA regulations, Hamilton said, “all but guarantee that there will never be another coal-fired power plant built in this country.”

The EPA supports dealing with harmful carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by pumping the emissions underground for storage. But that’s not a realistic approach, Hamilton said, noting that “so-called carbon sequestration is not being done anywhere in the world.”

The outlook for coal is not without its bright spots, he said. Projected worldwide increases in steel consumption promise increase demand for West Virginia metallurgical coal that’s used to make steel. And coal exports to China, India and elsewhere in Asia, already strong, seem poised to increase dramatically.

But there’s no escaping the fact, Hamilton said, “that the Obama administration and the EPA are doing everything possible to choke off coal production in Appalachia. Coal is abundant, affordable and reliable. A national agenda aimed at eliminating the use of coal is seriously out of whack.”