CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Lawmakers learned last week there are now 96 active coal mining sites in West Virginia. The number has continued to drop over the last two years. There were 184 active mines at the end of 2012 and 152 at the end of 2013.
“There’s a whole lot of reasons for that, but predominantly it’s the uncertainty created by this administration,” said West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney. “We dealt for several years with the fact you couldn’t get federal permits, now they’ve taken on the power plants and put out these rules on greenhouse gas which have no technology to control.”
Raney said since 2012, 4,000 miners have lost their jobs in West Virginia’s coal industry and the number has dropped 1,200 since 2013.
“Those are direct jobs, the primary good-paying jobs,” said Raney. “That’s devastating when you think we’re down to about 17 to 18,000 people digging coal today.”
Raney said the industry is also seeing a shift in production from mines in southern West Virginia to northern West Virginia. He attributes that to the scrubber technology added to northern power plants during the 1990s which enabled them to burn high-sulfur coal found in northern West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
“We spent 25 years putting control technology on those plants,” Raney said. “Now they can use and need to use high-sulfur coal and that’s where they’re going.”
Raney said the one bright spot for mines in southern West Virginia is the quality of the metallurgical coal in the region is the best in the world and is being sold worldwide for steel-making.