Daily American: For first time in years, coal industry optimistic
Rising commodity prices and recent election results have energized and enthused proponents of the coal industry.
Pennsylvania Coal Alliance Executive Director Rachel Gleason said the pieces seem to be in place for a comeback in coal-related jobs. The Harrisburg-based organization estimates that the industry directly supports 13,000 jobs in Pennsylvania, and that the average miner salary is $30,000 more than the average private-sector job.
“The third quarter of 2016 proved positive for industry, as (metallurgical) coal prices continued to surge after experiencing historical lows at this time last year,” she said. “The outlook for 2017 indicates natural gas prices will increase, which will increase the demand for coal as an affordable and reliable source of base load electricity.”
According to the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, coal produces approximately 33 percent of America's electricity nationwide. But President Barack Obama — citing environmental concerns including climate change from carbon emissions — has helped enact policies widely viewed as favorable of renewable energy sources to the detriment of coal.
Gleason said a Donald Trump presidency is expected to be a positive for miners.
“It has been a difficult market for coal, and President-elect Trump’s pledge to eliminate the unnecessary and overreaching regulations that have stifled the growth and competitiveness of the coal industry will reverse that trend,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus of the 12th Congressional District, which includes Somerset and Cambria counties, shared Gleason's optimism for the industry in light of a change in the White House.
“President Obama was transparent about his intentions toward the coal industry from the beginning of his presidency, and he made good on his promises to make it harder for the coal industry to operate, destroying thousands of good-paying coal jobs across the country in the process,” Rothfus said in an email.
Two bills cited by Rothfus as critical in 2017 are the Satisfying Energy Needs and Saving the Environment (SENSE) Act and the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act.
The SENSE Act, according to Rothfus, will expand the coal-refuse-to-energy program that bolsters the industry while restoring and remediating contaminated hillsides and waterways. The REINS Act, meanwhile, is designed to roll back executive power and give Congress more of a role when it comes to adopting regulations that are expected to have an annual economic impact of at least $100 million.
“In the next Congress, we need to take a look at misguided regulations like the (Environmental Protection Agency’s) job-killing stream buffer zone rule and other rules and regulations that fail to help the environment in any meaningful way but kill family sustaining jobs here in Western Pennsylvania,” Rothfus said.
Positive signs for the industry are already being seen locally.
Corsa Coal, which operates a mine at Quecreek and is expected to open another in Acosta this spring, has reacted to the rising prices with plans to hire. The company has also received a $3 million state grant for expansion.
"Extreme global shortages of metallurgical coal have caused prices to increase 250 percent since earlier in the year,” Corsa CEO George Dethlefsen said in a press release earlier this month. “Corsa is taking steps to maximize coal production and sales to capitalize on the favorable market environment.”
Pete Merritts — president of the Corsa Coal Corp. Northern Appalachian Division — said he expects to hire at least 40 new employees in April and 50 more in September. These employees are expected to work at the new Acosta mine, which is expected to be in production for at least two years.
“We need that quality of coal,” he said, stressing the importance of the price surge for metallurgical coal used in iron and steel production. “This is an opportune time.”
Like Gleason and Rothfus, he expressed confidence in how the industry will look under a Trump administration. He said that he and his colleagues were convinced that Hillary Clinton would have had an agenda similar to Obama's.
“I think the things that Donald Trump promised will do good things for the coal industry,” he said. “It was an easy decision for the coal industry to back Donald Trump.”