A Turn for the Better

Out with the old and in with the new – 2017 is off and running! In Washington D.C., where the wheels often seem to turn SOOOOOOO slowly, the new administration has shown a sense of urgency in tackling important issues addressed during the campaign. And that includes coal!! After years of a stifling regulatory environment intent on keeping coal in the ground rather than fostering its responsible development and use, the veil of regulation is being lifted. This is indeed a meaningful turn for the better.

Even so, we must not cease our efforts in educating everyone from the public to the media to policymakers about our industry. Because it’s not that we are anti‐regulation – our industry is filled with experts in regulation who are focused on compliance with the stringent standards that guide our everyday operations at coal mines, in coal transportation and handling, and in power and industrial plant consumption and beneficial use of coal by‐products. It’s that we believe in and are committed to what we do and the importance of coal to our nation and the world. We know that American energy and the economy go hand in hand, and that our diverse energy resources support our way of life.

On a more local level, coal communities are some of the best communities in our country. I started my career at a midwestern utility, and our coal power plants and the towns they were located in or nearby were great places for me to spend time. I was educated on many levels. Certainly there’s nothing like being at an operation to get that hands‐on learning experience. But beyond learning about power plants, I observed something else – happy people. The power plants were spotless and humming 24/7. Employees there had good jobs, the ability to sustain themselves and family members, and a positive attitude about the future. They had a sense of making a contribution to an industry, accompanied by a purpose for positively impacting their communities. Townspeople mirrored that, as the ripple effects of the plant generated jobs and the means for others to prosper.

I saw this replicated later as I worked in other parts of the coal supply chain – on the railroad where railroad towns were often THE towns in a county, and in mining towns across the different states I traveled to with my job for a coal company. In recent years, the growing number and expanding scope of regulations for coal mining and coal power plants have significantly increased the cost of coal for electricity generation and industrial use, made it less competitive against other fuels, and resulted in the closure of a large number of coal power plants. There have been devastating impacts on these coal communities. The jobs lost cannot easily be replaced, if they can be replaced at all. Economic diversification has a nice ring to it, but all too often it’s not achievable – or at least not on a scale that could possibly translate to the equivalent of life before that devastation.