Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

July 10, 2014

Official: EPA regulations part of ‘Perfect Storm’ coal industry faces

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Coal Association, has spent his entire adult life working in the coal industry. That work has gotten harder in the past few years.

“Right now, the market for coal is down and no one wants to invest in coal,” Taylor said. “Our fight is very difficult, and it’s made more difficult when the government in power is against coal.”

The news on Wednesday out of Washington, and Richmond, Va., wasn’t exactly reassuring. U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., announced that a House Appropriations Committee approved a bill titled The Fiscal Year 2015 Interior and Environmental Appropriations bill, that, according to Rahall, would halt the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing regulations without regard to the effect that the regulations would have on local economies.

“The message to the EPA in this bill is plain and simple: You cannot continue to churn out regulation upon regulation without regard for their effect on our economy and the jobs of our citizens,” Rahall was quoted in a press release as stating. “This bill is a wrench in the gears of the EPA’s regulatory perpetual motion machine.”

According to Rahall’s press release, the bill would stop EPA’s regulations requiring existing and/or future coal-fired power plants to cap carbon emissions, as well as stop the EPA from expanding the places subject to Clean Water Act permitting and to block proposed changes to the definitions of “fill,” and “stream buffer zone.”

“It is an issue that tends to make less people willing to make investments in the coal industry,” Taylor said of the EPA’s regulations. “There are so many things right now that are negative that it’s like were in a perfect storm like we were in back in 2003 when everything was going good.”

Taylor said that there is no doubt that the slumping coal market has had an adverse impact on the entire region. “I drive through the coalfields of McDowell County now, and there’s not much traffic ... not many coal trucks moving around,” Taylor said. “The coal industry has always had its cycles. When you’re in a down cycle, it always seems like it’s going to last forever. When you’re in a boom cycle, you think that will last forever too.”

Taylor said that during coal’s most recent up cycle, the industry struggled to attract a new generation of coal miners. “Five years ago, we had to hire people.” He said that while several of those coal miners who were hired five years ago have gone on to other professions, the remaining coal miners with experience and seniority tend to be older.

“This is all just part of the perfect storm that the coal industry is in right now,” Taylor said.

The Pocahontas Coal Association was established in the mid-1990s to provide coal operators who operate smaller coal mines as well as their service, equipment and repair suppliers with a forum to discuss issues that face the industry. The Association also supports programs in the coalfields that benefit high school and local college athletics and academics.

— Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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