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A week in coal – 3 October 2014

World Coal,

As another week draws to an end, we present some of the stories from the global coal industry that caught the eye of the World Coal team this week. 

In defence of Polish coal

In spite of a global industry downturn and subdued coal markets, it was refreshing to hear the words this week of Poland’s new prime minister, Ewa Kopacz, who spoke out in support of the country’s coal industry in Parliament. Kopacz declared that the coal industry “has to be protected against any unfair competition and regain profitability”. Her words will be welcomed by coal companies and workers alike, particularly in a domestic industry hit by plunging prices and in need of a helping hand. Kopacz called on all Polish political parties to unite behind coal and support “the future of the Polish coal industry”, as she made it one of her government’s priorities, among reducing energy costs and increasing social spending.

A polar votex

One government that would rather not be seen supporting the coal industry is the incumbent Obama administration in the US. Here, the co-called ‘war on coal’ is still being fought on all fronts. This week, the president and CEO of the National Mining Association (NMA), Hal Quinn, compared the impact of environmental regulations in the US to last winter’s polar vortex. According to Quinn, the regulations are forcing the closure of coal plants at great expense – up to US$ 35 billion, according to NMA figures. Quinn said that the EPA was “creating permanent vortex conditions for [the US] electricity grid from misguided federal policies that will do more lasting damage that Mother Nature.”

Oregon and Wyoming in interstate dispute

Another blow for the US coal industry arrived in the form of news that the state of Wyoming’s appeal against the rejection of a construction permit for Ambre Energy’s proposed coal export terminal on the Columbia River had been denied by the Oregon Department of State Lands (DSL). Wyoming officials claimed that the denial of the permit for Ambre Energy broke an interstate commerce clause. However, the DSL said Wyoming did not have legal standing on the permit decision, because it failed to provide comments on the coal terminal proposal during the comment period. Ambre Energy has also appealed against the rejection of a permit, and continues to await the outcome of this appeal.

A HELPing hand

In a rare glimmer of hope in these otherwise dark days for the US coal industry, news broke this week that a pair of US congressmen have teamed up to try and support coal mine workers who have lost their jobs during the industry downturn. Republican Representative David McKinley of West Virginia and Democrat, Peter Welch, of Vermont have proposed legislation that would help support out-of-work miners. The proposed Healthy Employee Loss Prevention (HELP) Act would provide support for workers who had lost their jobs due to the “downturn in the coal industry related to a variety of factors, including cheaper alternative fuel sources, federal regulations, existence of state to state energy markets.” Eligible workers would receive benefits for a year, as well as assistance with retraining, job searches and relocation.

Coalbed methane risks are manageable 

Finally, news from Australia, as the Chief Scientist & Engineer released the final report from her 19-month independent review of coalbed methane (CBM) activities in New South Wales (NSW). The review found many of the technical challenges and risks posed by the CBM industry can be managed, provided appropriate care and diligence is taken. Prof. Mary O’Kane noted in her report that despite a perception that CBM is environmentally damaging, “it is not significantly more likely to be more damaging or dangerous than other extractive industries." O’Kane’s report also highlighted a number of potential benefits offered by CBM, and said the ball was now firmly in the NSW government’s court in regards to implementing the recommendations noted in the report. 

Written by Sam Dodson

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