Despite major

declines in 2013

BECKLEY — Coal remains West Virginia’s main export, but the industry experienced double-digit declines in 2013 as industrialized nations switched to alternative energy and the global economy continued to lag.

In 2013, West Virginia shipped approximately $4.4 billion of coal internationally, down 40 percent from $7.4 billion in 2012, according to the state’s Department of Commerce.

“The foreign markets are going to be erratic. There’s going to be good years and bad years for the foreign markets ...” said Mark Machow, West Virginia’s deputy revenue secretary.

The economies of China, Japan and India, three of the state’s Top 10 markets in 2012, suffered decline in growth this past year and as a result West Virginia’s coal exports to those countries dived, said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.

“China, which was our fourth-largest market in 2012, and Japan, which was our ninth-largest market that year, fell out of our Top 10 markets completely while exports to India saw a sharp decline of 62 percent. Also, our exports to Brazil were off by 32 percent.”

Coal exports to the state’s second-largest overseas market, The Netherlands, fell 33 percent from $538 million in 2012 to less than $270 million last year, Commerce Department figures show.

An official with The Netherlands Information Desk at the country’s embassy in Washington said Holland is making a switch from coal-fired electric plants, which accounts for about a third of the countries energy supply, because of the European Union’s strict emission-reduction goals. In 2011 and 2012, Europe’s demand for coal grew. However, the Dutch official described it as “nothing more than an aberration.”

The official said the EU’s strict emission standards started last year and will force many older power plants to shut down by 2023.

West Virginia still leads the nation in coal exports, shipping out 40 percent of America’s total coal exports. Pennsylvania is far behind at 18 percent and Alabama a distant third at 12 percent, according to the International Trade Administration.

Raney said West Virginia coal is used overseas mostly for steam and steel production. He said exports is “a bright spot” in the state’s coal production.

“We hope the see the trend reverse in 2014 and beyond,” he said.

Early figures aren’t showing a reversal. The first half of this year, coal exports have continued to fall, according to the West Virginia Economic Outlook 2015, published by the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University.

As of June 2014, exports of minerals and ore, including coal, fell to $1.8 billion, roughly a 35-percent decline over the same period last year. The economic outlook notes that ore and minerals still make up a majority of West Virginia’s global business at 45.3 percent of its total exports.

Coal exports increased substantially to Morocco and Mexico, Raney said, somewhat offsetting the loss in other parts of the world. Raney predicts that coal will overtake oil as the world’s top energy commodity and that economists are forecasting growth of worldwide energy demands for another 35-plus years, he said.

“The world markets know the high quality of West Virginia’s coal,” said Raney.

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