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Is coal making a comeback?

Hank Hayes • May 21, 2018 at 9:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Coal is making a comeback, and President Donald Trump isn’t the sole reason, coal company executives and industry watchers were told during the 39th annual Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance/Southern States Energy Board Conference and Expo on Monday.

“Is coal making a comeback? All signs in the market point to yes. … The foundation has been laid to rebuild the nation’s coal industry,” said Jack Richardson, chief operating officer for Alabama-based Warrior Met Coal.

The comeback, conference attendees were advised, has been fueled by increased demand for coal in Europe and Asia, higher coal prices and coal mining employment going up every quarter in 2017.

Optimism reigned at the conference, held at the MeadowView Conference Resort and Convention Center, as alliance Chairman Jeff Taylor led off the event by hailing the Virginia General Assembly’s move to renew tax credits offered to coal mine owners. Bills passed by Delegate Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, and Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Russell, offer tax credits solely for metallurgical or “met” coal used for steel-making in foreign countries.

“We really appreciate the governor (Democrat Ralph Northam) working with us. … He stepped up to the plate and did what he said he would do,” Taylor noted.

The conference’s theme was: “The New Vision for Coal.”

“I’m excited. Are you?” asked Eddie Joe Williams, federal representative to the Southern States Energy Board. “We have seen a change in the view of coal. … My boss (Trump) believes it is essential to the economy of the United States. … Other likely uses of coal must be pursued.

“We use coal to make steel, fertilize pharmaceuticals, make high-tech equipment, airplane parts and water purification, many things the average citizen doesn’t realize we use coal for. It’s important we educate them.”

Still, U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., pointed out that during coal’s lean years, CSX pulled out of Erwin, Tenn., and the town lost 300 jobs. Eastman, the Kingsport-based global specialty chemicals company, also began reducing its reliance on coal beginning in 2013.

U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said he’s doing everything to modify the Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called “New Source Review” permitting affecting industry.

“We want clear air, but we cannot kill American business,” said Griffith, a member of the House Coal Caucus.

Griffith asked conference attendees to help Republicans keep control of the Senate and House.

“I can tell how I know we’re doing a good job. … The activists on the left, the people who supported Bernie Sanders are all over the place campaigning hard to get rid of me. … We’re seeing more signs for the opposition than we’ve ever seen. … We need to make sure (the voters) understand elections have consequences,” Griffith stressed.

Steve Winberg, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Energy, emphasized a need to educate millennials about the importance of coal.

“Look around the room here,” he said. “We don’t have that many young people in this room and we need them … to understand that coal is important and vital to our economy.

“President Trump wants to revive coal, not revile coal. … We still have a lot of bad policy to undo. … The next generation of coal-fired technology, it needs to be near zero emitting.”

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