Energy Consultant

CHARLESTON — A recent story by AP robamawinksmalleporter Dylan Lovan that appeared in your newspaper and others regarding coal production in Appalachia, contained enough fact to create a headline but the facts were lost amidst erroneous statements and distortions.

In the story, Lovan asserted that – based on a report by the U.S. Department of Energy and another “study” by a Morgantown-based anti-coal advocacy group — that coal production in the Central Appalachian region is in the midst of an irreversible decline.

Lovan further asserted that this decline is the result of the rapid depletion of quality coal reserves in the region, and that the anti-coal policies being pursued by the Obama Administration through its regulatory agencies has little do to with the decline.

I can assure you that this assertion is wrong.

There has been a decline in Central Appalachian coal production. This decline is partly the result of the worldwide economic recession we have suffered since late-2007. It is also partly attributable to more difficult geologic conditions. But the primary cause of this decline in coal production – particularly over the past two years when the international markets for coal have rebounded – is the Obama Administration’s ongoing war against Eastern coal production.

Since the Obama Administration took office in January 2009, it has been virtually impossible to get a mining permit of any kind approved by the U.S. EPA. Further, even permits that have already been approved have been cast into doubt by the action of the EPA in revoking a previously granted four-year old permit for the Spruce surface mine in Logan County, effectively saying to any business that depends on obtaining permits from the federal government that their promises are not worth the paper on which they are printed. How can this not have a chilling affect on investment and business activity?

Three years ago — before the recession hit in its full impact — West Virginia produced more than 160 million tons of coal. Since Obama and the EPA began their assault on coal, West Virginia’s production has fallen to 144 million tons. All the while, demand for West Virginia coal has increased.  Our coal is known around the world for its high-BTU, low sulfur content. It is sought after for both steam and steel making. In fact, West Virginia coal is, on average, 200 percent more efficient than western coal reserves. It takes 2 tons of western coal to equal the heat capacity of 1 ton of West Virginia coal.

To argue that demand is driving the production decline is an outright fabrication. In fact, the price of West Virginia coal is now at historic levels. The demand is there. The problem is very simply that the Obama Administration and the EPA are doing everything possible to choke off production in Appalachia.

One thing is certain, West Virginia coal miners should be mining much more coal than they are today. The demand is there. Someone, somewhere, will fill the demand. The coal is here. West Virginia coal miners are the best in the world and they can compete with anyone in the world if the playing field is level and the rules of the game are defined.

Today, however, the rules are different for miners in West Virginia than they are for miners in President Obama’s home state of Illinois or those in western reserves. Why?

Lovan’s assessment is simplistic and amounts to little more than an acceptance of opinion (that of anti-coal extremists) as fact.

I am not sure whether any attempt was made to gather comment from the West Virginia Coal Association, despite a quote attributed to the association that was tacked on after the fact without further attribution. The comment was probably a misquote from testimony given at this week’s Congressional subcommittee field hearing on the Obama Administration’s continuing assault on coal.

But I digress …

The bottom line is that West Virginia coal remains a leader in the nation’s coal production — the second largest coal producing state in the nation.  We have more than 200 years of coal left in the ground at current usage rates. Because of its quality, our coal is one of the most sought after commodities on the world market. We have a skilled, quality workforce and management team that has shown time and again that given a level playing field we can compete with anyone.

Despite the downturn in production due to the current economic conditions and the Obama Administration’s anti-coal agenda, our industry has been instrumental in keeping West Virginia’s budget balanced. This past year coal mining provided approximately $500 million in coal severance monies to the state. Each year our industry provides some $3.4 billion in wages and $26 billion in total economic impact to our state, much of it in the some of the most rural, most impoverished counties where other choices for good, well-paying jobs are few and far between.

Coal is vital to our state and our nation. Coal is also vital in the world’s drive to rebuild its economy.  China knows  this and so do other countries. It seems, however, that the Obama Administration is willing to destroy this vital industry — particularly here in West Virginia.

Yes, coal production is down over the past few years here in West Virginia and Appalachia. But the problem isn’t really one of declining reserves. It is, instead, a direct result of Obama’s assault on eastern mining. If this loss of production was truly due to market conditions, it would be to some degree understandable, but the idea that it is due to a conscious policy agenda being pursued by an American president is unbelievable.

West Virginia deserves better. West Virginia coal miners deserve better. They deserve better treatment from their president and his administration.