It is certainly not an understatement to say that the region’s historic coal industry is facing a perfect storm of challenges. And it’s a point well communicated by Rick Taylor, president of the Pocahontas Coal Association, and Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association.
“Right now, the market for coal is down, and no one wants to invest in coal,” Taylor said last week. “Our fight is very difficult, and it’s made more difficult when the government in power is against coal.”
And the challenges aren’t coming just from the Obama administration and Washington lawmakers. In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe — who campaigned in support of President Obama’s new EPA rules — recently reconvened the Virginia Climate Change and Resiliency Commission, and his administration is apparently now considering a new cap-and-trade agreement advocated by an environmental group that is seeking to cap carbon emissions from power plants in Virginia and eight other states. But when coal-fired power plants like the Glen Lynn facility in Giles County are closed as a result of new federal EPA regulations, politicians are failing to consider the devastating impact upon the affected communities, as correctly noted by Raney.
“The thing they aren’t looking at in Washington is the devastating impact that this is having on the town of Glen Lynn,” Raney told the Daily Telegraph last week. “It’s a beautiful plant. It’s had an absolute economic impact on the town of Glen Lynn, and now you are removing it, and no one in Washington seems to pay much attention or care about it.”
And fears of electrical rates increasing as a result of the new federal EPA regulations could already be coming true. Appalachian Power announced just last week that it was seeking a significant 17 percent rate increase in the Mountain State. As electrical rates continue to increase for citizens across the country, it will be a “real wake up call” for everyday Americans, Raney says. Taylor says the slumping coal market is having an adverse impact on the entire region.
“I drive through the coalfields of McDowell County now, and there’s not much traffic … not many coal trucks moving around,” Taylor said. “The coal industry has always had its cycles. When you’re in a down cycle, it always seems like it’s going to last forever. When you’re in a boom cycle, you think that will last forever too.”
Although economic development officials across our region are taking important steps to try to diversify our local economy — and are succeeding to a certain extent — coal is still largely at the heart of the region’s economic development engine. And when Washington wages a war against the coalfields of southern West Virginia and Southwest Virginia, there is a devastating ripple effect that extends far beyond those miners and their families who suddenly find themselves unemployed. Republicans — and some Democrats — in the U.S. House of Representatives are trying to fight for coal. But just about any coal-related measure that passes the Republican-controlled House is sure to be killed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
All concerned voters should take note. It is going to take change in Washington this November — and change at the White House in 2015 — if our region is to weather this devastating storm.
— From the July 13 Bluefield Daily Telegraph