The Times West Virginian

Headline News

May 15, 2013

Report: More woes for Appalachian mining

Pressure comes from many sides

LOUISVILLE, Ky — Hard times are expected to continue in the Appalachian region that was once the heart of the nation’s coal production, according to a new report.

Coal business in the mountains of eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia is facing declining reserves, higher production costs and competition from other coal basins and natural gas.

The region is home to a long-simmering battle between the industry and environmentalists over a mining practice known as mountaintop removal. Government agencies including the Environmental Protection Agency under the Obama administration have taken aim at the mining method, which uses blasting and heavy machinery to scrape away layers of rock and earth, drastically altering the landscape.

The report from Morgantown-based Downstream Strategies said government data shows that production in Central Appalachia is projected to fall from 185 million tons in 2011 to 128 million tons by 2020, a 31 percent drop. Along with eastern Kentucky and southern West Virginia, the region also includes lower producing mines in Tennessee and Virginia.

The consulting group sounded alarms about the decline in a report a few years ago. The document released Tuesday titled “The Continuing Decline in Demand for Central Appalachian Coal: Market and Regulatory Influences,” said the region’s production is being squeezed by economics, government regulations and even its own geology.

“Since we released our 2010 report, the decline of the region’s coal industry has been publicly acknowledged by both industry leaders and state policymakers,” said Evan Hansen, president of environmental consulting group.

The region reached a production peak of 294 million tons in 1990 and 291 million tons in 1997.

But much of the its easy-to-reach coal seams have been mined out, meaning it takes more workers to keep production levels up, translating to higher labor costs, the report said. And electric utilities, traditionally the region’s best customers, are retiring coal-fired plants or upgrading plants to burn cheaper natural gas, a trend the report says will continue into the future.

Competition from high-producing western mines that can mine coal at a cheaper price is also putting economic pressure on Central Appalachia — which has long been associated with coal mining dating back to the early 20th Century, when entire towns sprung up around busy underground mines. The region remained the dominant source of coal in the U.S. until it was eclipsed by western states, namely Wyoming, in the 1990s.

Last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, two massive surface mines in Wyoming accounted for 20 percent of the nation’s coal output. By comparison, all the mines in Central Appalachia produced just 17 percent of U.S. coal in 2011.

The report also mentions tougher federal regulations being enforced by the Obama Administration, which coal supporters and some elected officials in the region cite as a key reason for slowed production.

Mines in the mountainous areas of Central Appalachia have undergone a level of scrutiny that coal operations in other areas haven’t been subjected to, said Bill Bissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association, an advocacy group.

“This action, along with other regulatory effects from the federal government, have created an unfair atmosphere in eastern Kentucky’s coal production,” Bissett said.

The federal government’s halting of about 40 mining permits in eastern Kentucky has led to the loss of about 3,600 jobs in the mines and in businesses that benefit from the region’s mining, Bissett said.

“We do recognize eastern Kentucky is facing significant hardships right now in coal production, but much like that market has decreased so quickly, there are analysts telling us it could uptick almost equally as quickly,” he said.

Coal companies that operate mines in the region have echoed the report’s concerns about the region to their investors.

Alpha Natural Resources of Bristol, Va., which operates 89 mines in Central Appalachia, said in its 2012 annual report that it expects production in those operations to decline by 10 percent by 2017.

St. Louis-based Arch Coal attributed slumping production in the region to cheaper natural gas, “depletion of economically attractive reserves, permitting issues, and increasing costs of production,” according to its annual report.

The Tennessee Valley Authority this week said it is offering retirement incentives to power plant workers in an effort to cut some of the 2,400 jobs in its fossil fuels division. TVA is planning to idle 18 of its oldest coal-fired power plants.

 

1
Text Only
Headline News
  • W.Va. man arrested after child found in hot car

    A Wheeling man faces charges that he left his 18-month-old daughter in a hot car while he was asleep on a couch.

    July 29, 2014

  • Board to meet on dangerous animals list

    CHARLESTON (AP) — A board tasked with compiling a list of animals that are illegal to keep as pets in West Virginia will consider one that’s shorter than a list suggested earlier.

    July 28, 2014

  • Clinton impeachment shadows GOP lawsuit against Obama

    The last time Republicans unleashed impeachment proceedings against a Democratic president, they lost five House seats in an election they seemed primed to win handily.

    July 28, 2014

  • Study: Fist bumps less germy than handshakes

    When it comes to preventing the spread of germs, maybe the president is on to something with his fondness for fist bumps.

    July 28, 2014

  • Obama Exporting Pollu_time.jpg ‘Not in my backyard’: U.S. sending dirty coal abroad

    As  the Obama administration weans the U.S. off dirty fuels blamed for global warming, energy companies have been sending more of America’s unwanted energy leftovers to other parts of the world where they could create even more pollution.
    This fossil fuel trade threatens to undermine President Barack Obama’s strategy for reducing the gases blamed for climate change and reveals a little-discussed side effect of countries acting alone on a global problem. The contribution of this exported pollution to global warming is not something the administration wants to measure, or even talk about.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • U.S.: Russia fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists has crossed the border.
    The images, which came from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence and could not be independently verified by The Associated Press, show blast marks where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

    July 28, 2014

  • Plan to simplify health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.
    Insurance exchange customers who opt for convenience by automatically renewing their coverage for 2015 are likely to receive dated and inaccurate financial aid amounts from the government, say industry officials, advocates and other experts.
    If those amounts are too low, consumers could get sticker shock over their new premiums. Too high, and they’ll owe the tax man later.

    July 28, 2014

  • W.Va. Judge: WVU, IMG College deal is OK

    A judge has denied a motion by West Virginia Radio Corp. to toss the media rights contract between West Virginia University and IMG College.
    Media outlets report Monongalia County business court circuit judge Thomas Evans set aside a motion for summary judgment against WVU and others.
    West Virginia Radio was seeking to void any contract entered by WVU and IMG. West Virginia Radio unsuccessfully bid on the contract, then filed a motion for summary judgment in February, claiming school officials violated state procurement laws.
    Evans ruled the code cited by the plaintiffs didn’t apply to the $86.5 million, 12-year agreement reached last year.

    July 28, 2014

  • Powerful storms rip through eastern U.S.

    Powerful storms raking across several states in the eastern U.S. on Sunday have destroyed at least 10 homes in Tennessee, and there were no immediate reports of any deaths or injuries, authorities said.

    July 27, 2014

  • Lawmakers say Obama too aloof with Congress

    President Barack Obama’s request for billions of dollars to deal with migrant children streaming across the border set off Democrats and Republicans. Lawmakers in both parties complained that the White House — six years in — still doesn’t get it when it comes to working with Congress.

    July 27, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads