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West Virginia coal with nowhere to go following Baltimore bridge collapse

By Damian Phillips, The Exponent Telegram

Quick take:

  • Collapse of Francis Scott Key Bridge may disrupt West Virginia’s coal exports, affecting its economy significantly.
  • Increased traffic to nearby ports could lead to delays and complications for coal shipments, impacting the region’s economy.
  • Producers face challenges in finding alternative transportation routes, potentially leading to increased costs and revenue losses.

CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — West Virginia’s main export may be affected for an undetermined amount of time due to the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore.

Increased traffic to adjacent ports in Virginia and New Jersey may cause increased delays, prices and complications for the state’s No. 1 economic output, according to experts.

The effects of the Baltimore port’s closure likely will be felt more in West Virginia than nationally, experts said. This is because container shipping, which makes up a large part of the national economy, is only a small facet of the port’s total business, whereas coal is one of the port’s main exports.

Minor inconveniences and cost increases for container shipping and automobiles headed for dealerships from Baltimore are expected, as the Port of Baltimore is a crucial hub for car and light truck distribution, said John Saldanha, Sears chair in Global Supply Chain Management and professor, WVU John Chambers College of Business and Economics.

However, these inconveniences pale in comparison to the potential impact on West Virginia coal.

“About 40% of the total volume of coal that goes through Baltimore comes from Northern and North Central West Virginia,” which represents a quarter of all U.S. coal exports, said West Virginia Coal Association President Chris Hamilton.

Since West Virginia is the nation’s largest coal exporter, it would stand to reason that much of the coal stuck in port would be coal that originated in the Mountain State, said John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research in West Virginia University’s John Chambers College of Business and Economics.

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