by BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Congress finally found common ground on a bill that will provide some benefit to the export thermal and metallurgical coal business, but it may seem a small concession to an industry that has been through the ringer in recent years.
“I welcome anything that can help us,” Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Operators Association said. “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 when you consider that the costs are so high with more regulatory restrictions combined with the fact that we’re mining 28-inch coal now instead of 48-inch coal like we were mining back then, it’s hard to make any money,” Taylor said. “Thirty years ago, I could make a little money at $25 a ton.”
The House of Representatives passed The Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2013 on Wednesday with a bipartisan vote of 417 to 3 — an almost unprecedented vote in light of the prevailing contentious behavior that has characterized party interaction in recent months and led to the most recent government shutdown that ended earlier this month.
“It is a less negative vote than we’ve had for a long time,” U.S. Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, D-W.Va., said. “There were no additions and no earmarks in the bill. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will make the funding decisions and Chairman (U.S. Rep. Bill) Shuster (R-Pa.) was able to keep all of the right wing in tow. It’s a testament to the bipartisan support for this bill.”
Rahall is the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. Rahall and Shuster jointly crafted the bill that identifies 23 projects already approved by the Corps of Engineers that will make significant improvements to the nation’s inland waterways and U.S. ports to help facilitate the movement of coal and other commodities.
“There is more coal traveling on the inland waterways than you would imagine,” Taylor said. “There’s a lot of export thermal and metallurgical coal on the Mississippi River from coal mines in West Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Ohio and from the Illinois basin. I welcome the improvements.”
Rahall said that the bill may reflect a new spirit of cooperation in Congress. “I hope very fervently that is the case,” he said. “We have a very important transportation bill coming up that would provide a great benefit. We need to get back to regular order in Congress, work together and do what we need to do to benefit the nation.”
In addition to the Corps of Engineers projects advanced in the bill, several projects were removed from consideration. “That’s why the term ‘reform’ was included in the title,” Rahall said.
The vote has been a topic of discussion in several circles. Transportation Weekly reported on the day of the vote that “the vote margin” is a triumph for Shuster and Rahall’s efforts to restore bipartisan tradition to the Transportation & Infrastructure committee. “The overwhelming vote margin, which was not foreseen beforehand (everyone thought the bill would pass, but not by that much) is testimony to the power of that tradition,” according to the Oct. 23 edition of the publication produced by Legislative Services.
The U.S. Senate has passed a similar Water Resources bill earlier this year. A conference committee will work out the differences in the bill in the weeks ahead.
West Virginia is the nation’s leading coal exporter with more than $5 billion in exports last year alone.
— Contact Bill Archer at firstname.lastname@example.org