Group credits lawmakers for coal uptick

Bluefield Daily Telegraph photo by Bill Archer The eastbound Norfolk Southern coal train shown here as it passed beneath the Grant Street Bridge in Bluefield is likely bound for the NS port facility at Lambert’s Point. New statistics reveal a dramatic drop in the number of active coal miners in West Virginia

By FRED PACE

HD Media

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — An uptick in the state business index can be attributed mostly to the state’s coal industry, and the West Virginia Coal Association is thanking state lawmakers for helping the industry survive recent years of austerity.

According to a recent report by West Virginia University, the Mountain State Business Index rose 0.3 of a percent in August, marking the index’s 11th month-to-month gain over the past 13 months. Coal production accounted for the majority of the index’s increase due to a 3.9 percent jump in output from the previous month.

“Thanks to the West Virginia Legislature, which has passed each component of the Coal Jobs and Safety Act over the past few years, our industry has been able to weather the regulatory storm that came out of Washington for eight years,” said Coal Association President Bill Raney. “Now that we have a more favorable attitude towards the coal industry at the federal level, we have renewed confidence that West Virginia’s coalfields will continue to play a major role in the state’s economic growth.”

Raney said the Coal Jobs and Safety Act legislation is a compilation of various business, safety and environmental updates that have allowed West Virginia coal to compete on a more level playing field with coal from other parts of the country.

“We hope the legislature will continue working with our industry to help us gain a competitive market advantage, and simplifying our tax structure to level the playing field will be a big part of that,” Raney said.

The Mountain State Business Index report noted a surge in coal demand during the spring compared with previous years, and it predicts an improved climate for exports, which should buoy coal production over the next few years.

On Monday, U.S. Sen.Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., released a report detailing the price and production levels of coal as well as natural gas prices in Appalachia and nationally.

“For the week ending Sept. 2, 2017 estimated U.S. coal production totaled approximately 16.4 million short tons,” Manchin said. “This production estimate is 1.9 percent lower than last week’s estimate and 5.2 percent higher than the production estimate in the comparable week in 2016.”

Coal production nationwide slumped from 1 billion tons in 2014 to just 739 million tons in 2016, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.

The average number of operators and contractors employed at the coal mines, excluding office staff, fell from 111,000 in 2014 to just 78,000 in 2016. But production increased by almost 35 million tons in the third quarter of 2016, around 22 percent, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics did report that the mining sector added an estimated 6,600 jobs in May of this year. The U.S. now has about 51,000 coal mining jobs compared to the 89,400 positions counted by the bureau at the end of 2011.

Follow reporter Fred Pace at Facebook.com/FredPaceHD and via Twitter @FredPaceHD.

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