Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

January 10, 2014

Strength in numbers: United stand for coal in Virginia

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — The creation of the new Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance is an important step toward providing a strong voice for Southwest Virginia’s coal industry. The new alliance is composed of three Virginia advocacy groups that have merged together in a welcomed move to unify their efforts in addressing the many serious issues facing the region’s coal industry.

The merger combines the Virginia Coal Association, the Richlands, Va.-based Eastern Coal Council and the Virginia Mining Association. The new organization’s headquarters will be located in Lebanon in Russell County.

Eastern Coal Council Executive Director Barbara Altizer says the merger will create a stronger, more unified group in education and outreach efforts. Altizer, a resident of Richlands in Tazewell County, will serve as the new organization’s executive director of education and outreach.

“From our perspective, the merger will serve to make us a stronger, more unified group in our  education and outreach efforts,” Altizer said Monday. “We will continue to grow our teacher education program in the summer and look forward to hosting our annual legislative reception in Richmond in January, our spring conference in May and next fall, and the coal, rail power tour for freshmen legislators. This is a  wonderful opportunity for us to work together to expand the audience to hear and better understand the vital importance of coal in not only our local and regional economies, but also our state and national economies.”

According to Robert Litton, current chairman of the Virginia Coal Association, several coal operators in the region had been discussing for some time how the efforts of the three advocacy groups can be streamlined. He says the merger will allow the new alliance to address a more broad array of issues and unified efforts.

The merger comes at a critical time for the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. Crippling new federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations from Washington are creating unnecessary challenges for the industry, and it remains to be seen if the new administration of Gov. Terry McAuliffe will work with or create unnecessary state-level stumbling blocks for the industry. While on the campaign trail last year, McAuliffe voiced support for the controversial new EPA rules that seek to limit carbon emissions from gas- or coal-fired power plants.

Despite the challenges ahead, industry officials remain optimistic. In fact, the industry is projected to see a modest rebound this year. The Energy Information Administration on Tuesday predicted a 36 million ton increase in coal production for the year, to 1.04 billion tons, the Associated Press reported. That’s a 3.6 percent increase for 2014. But mining output is projected to fall by more than 25 million tons in 2015. That’s when the  latest Obama administration rules aimed at mercury pollution will kick it — forcing coal-burning power plants such as the Glen Lynn facility in Giles County to be closed. Dozens of good paying jobs in the region will be lost as a result of these costly and nearly impossible to achieve rules.

That’s why it is so important for the region to have a strong and unified voice when it comes to the coal industry. It is our hope that the new alliance will help in accomplishing this important objective.