Hamilton discusses future of coal at Rotary meeting

PARKERSBURG – Coal mining is a vital part of the economy of the state of West Virginia and benefits the entire state, including Wood County, which does not see a lot of mining in its immediate area, a coal official told the Rotary Club of Parkersburg Monday.

Chris Hamilton, vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, spoke about the impact coal mining has on the state and it being the backbone of the state’s economy as well as the policies being put in place to curtail coal as a cheap and viable source of energy. Hamilton has previous experience as a miner and a mine foreman as well as operated his own mine safety consulting company and has worked to form various coal-related policies for the state.

”Coal has been one of the state’s leading industries forever and a day,” he said.

Mentioning the state recently marking its 150th anniversary, Hamilton said coal mining has been going on for all 150 years and back to when West Virginia was still apart of Virginia.

”We have been around for quite awhile,” he said. ”The fiscal impact and the jobs that have been created and sustained over the years has brought millions and millions of dollars into the regional economies.

”When you break it down, what our 20,000-some miners do is provide our state, our region and the world with low-cost and reliable household and industrial power 24/7. That is what has helped build this nation.”

However, policies are being put in place to cutdown on coal use domestically and new laws are being passed where certain standards have to be met to use coal, but the technology has not caught up with the requirements, leaving a lot of potential business for the state’s coal industry in limbo, Hamilton said, adding it has halted many plans for new coal- fired plants from being built.

”This administration has issued or established policy after policy that has served to inhibit or stop the use of fossil fuel and coal production within this country,” he said. ”That has resulted in around 3,500 miners who have been furloughed and unemployed. Many mining permits have been held up over the last five years.

”We are seeing out tax base cut by about 25 percent.”

The state has traditionally mined 160 million tons of coal, but we are now down to 120 million tons … all of this over the last five years.

There have been 300 coal-fired power units taken out of service or set to be taken offline because of new air-quality standards being put into place. Around 25 percent of the coal-fired plants nationwide are shutting down because the cost of bringing them into compliance with the new standards is too much.

Technology has lead to cleaner ways to burn coal and harness its energy while reducing airborn emissions, Hamilton said.

”There will be more gains made as our existing technology improves, he said.

Hamilton said the silver lining for the state’s coal industry is the number of foreign coal exports has increased, especially to Asia.

West Virginia is the second largest coal producing state in the nation behind Wyoming.

Due to West Virginia’s proximity to eastern ports, West Virginia accounts for one out of every two tons of coal that is being exported.

”We represent just shy of 50 percent of the U.S. total,” Hamilton said. ”We have some of the best coal found in the world.”

Coal is being used in those countries to support their growing industrial base.

”Exports have doubled over the last five years,” Hamilton said.

Coal is expected to surpass oil in the next year or so as the world’s leading fuel of choice, which could have benefits for West Virginia if the state is able to take advantage of it.

”We will continue to be one of the leading coal producing states in the nation,” Hamilton said.