Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a significant infrastructure investment bill last week that strengthens the water transportation network that West Virginia coal exports and jobs depend upon. The legislation authored by the leaders of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee provides assistance to the state’s export thermal and metallurgical coal business.
H.R. 3080, also known as “The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013,” authorizes additional investment in the nation’s network of inland waterways and U.S. ports to promote the efficient movement of coal and other commodities. The bipartisan bill was crafted by U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the full committee, and U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the committee. The measure cleared the House of Representatives by an impressive bipartisan vote of 417 to 3.
Rahall correctly notes that West Virginia is the nation’s leading coal exporter with more than $5 billion in exports last year, much of which relied on water infrastructure to reach foreign buyers. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, U.S. waterways and ports directly support 9,890 jobs in the Mountain State and contribute $1.6 billion to West Virginia’s economy. These are jobs, and tax revenue, that must be protected.
“When most people think about how our coal gets moved from the mines out to the markets, they immediately think of freight rail,” Rahall said. “While we certainly fill up our fair share of hopper cars, we are just as dependent on our nation’s system of inland waterways and our network of ports for the transport of coal throughout the country and, indeed, the world. This legislation, approved by the House, authorizes needed funding for the modernization of these watery corridors of commerce so that our commodities can reach overseas markets efficiently and support job growth in our state.”
Area coal leaders say the measure is a small concession to an industry that has weathered six years of setbacks under the Obama administration.
“I welcome anything that can help us,” Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Operators Association said Thursday. “I still have people ask me if I’ve ever seen times worse than these before. Thirty years ago when I was just starting out in the business, I was selling metallurgical coal for $25 a ton. Right now, I could probably get $90 or $100 a ton for met coal, but the costs are so high with more regulatory restrictions, mining 28-inch now instead of 48-inch coal like we were mining back then, I couldn’t make money. Thirty years ago, I could make a little money at $25 a ton.”
Taylor is correct. The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 is a small victory for the region’s embattled coal industry. But given the hostile anti-coal environment in Washington, there is little to celebrate. And it is only a matter of time before more crippling rules and regulations are mandated by the Obama administration in its ongoing attempts to destroy coal.