Data from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration shows first-quarter 2012 employment in the coal industry in West Virginia at 24,500, the highest levels since 1992. Coal company officials point out that there's been a flurry of layoff announcements this year by some of the region's major coal producers, including Alpha Natural Resources, Arch Coal and Patriot Coal. Those figures could show up in state and federal employment figures released for the 2nd or 3rd quarters of 2012.
Several speakers at the Coal Forum event cited outdated figures that suggested coal provides nearly half of the nation's electricity supply. More recent data from the U.S. Department of Energy shows that coal's share has been declining for years, was down to 42 percent last year and is projected to drop to 36 percent in 2012, largely because of competition from low-priced natural gas.
Promotional materials from the Coal Forum cited EPA's mountaintop removal crackdown and the federal Office of Surface Mining's rewrite of the stream "buffer zone rule" as impediments to coal production. But industry officials and political leaders who spoke focused on three EPA air pollution rules: The cross-state emissions rule, the first-ever restrictions on mercury and other air toxics, and EPA's proposal to limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
"Clean air and clean water do not stand alone in this country, not with power generation being essential to the way we live our lives," said Kelley Goes, a spokeswoman for Sen. Joe Manchin.
UMW lobbyist Bill Banig said that, in proposing its rules, EPA was not acting alone, but as a "direct result of court decisions." Congress last rewrote the Clean Air Act in 1990, Banig said, and EPA is still working to implement the law 22 years later.
Banig said, "it's an understatement to say" the UMW is disappointed with the Obama administration's proposals, but he added that the air pollution and global warming issues raised by the EPA initiatives aren't going away.
"Administrations come and go, but these issues stay," Banig said.
UMW officials are supporting efforts in the Senate to delay implementation of both the cross-state pollution rule and EPA's rule on mercury and other toxic air emissions, Banig said.
Coal Forum officials were touting a report that they said indicated the EPA's proposal to limit greenhouse emissions would essentially ban any new coal-fired power plants that did not have equipment to capture carbon dioxide emissions.
But the report, by an economist with the firm Bloomberg Government, said that the EPA proposal "probably wouldn't shift current investment patterns in the power sector. Natural gas-plants already have a compelling price advantage."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.