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Arch Coal talks CSR in the coal industry

World Coal,

Last month, US coal producer, Arch Coal, released its fourth corporate social responsibility report covering the period from 2011 to 2012. World Coal (WC) talked to Deck Slone (DS), Arch Coal’s senior vice president, strategy and public policy, about the company’s achievements.

WC: It’s been a rough couple of years for the coal industry. How important (and how hard) has it been to maintain Arch’s high responsibility practices?

DS: We know that when we uphold our core values, success follows. Arch’s president and CEO, John Eaves, explains it best in his CEO letter: “Even in times of economic challenge – especially in times of economic challenge – doing the right thing must be our bottom line.”

WC: You split the report into three sections: empowering our people; respecting the environment; and strengthening society. We’ll look at these in a bit more detail later, but to kick off can you pick a responsibility highlight from each section?
DS: In the area of safety, we achieved national accolades that included two national Sentinels of Safety Awards and a first-place finish for Mountain Laurel’s mine rescue team at the Nationwide Mine Rescue Skills Competition in 2012.

Our efforts for environmental excellence were recognised by the Museum of US Forest Service History. We were honoured to be the first energy company to receive the Forest Service’s Conservation Legacy Award.

Fueling socioeconomic progress at home and abroad encompasses a wide range of activities. A significant milestone we celebrated this year was the 25th anniversary of our signature Teacher Achievement Awards programme – that’s a generation of emphasis on education.

WC: There’s a lot about Arch’s safety culture in the report. What is it that makes you such a global leader in this area?
DS: Prevention and preparedness are critical to sustaining safe operations. Companywide we embrace proactive, behaviour-based safety practices and have an unwavering focus on achieving our ultimate goal of A Perfect Zero.

WC: As I said earlier, it’s been a tough time for coal. Arch has seen its workforce drop over the past two years. What has the company been doing to protect and maintain the skills and experience of its workforce – skills and experience that could otherwise be lost to the mining industry?
DS: Since the market downturn in 2011, we’ve preserved as many positions as possible, while reshaping our operations to meet the needs of a changing global market. As one example of our efforts to sustain our valued workforce elsewhere, we moved as many displaced employees as possible to the new Leer mine in northern West Virginia. The existing Arch talent accounts for two-thirds of Leer mine’s 360-person workforce.

WC: The development of talent is another often-discussed topic, particularly as a significant part of the mining workforce in the US is heading towards retirement. How important is it for a company like Arch to actively go out and find the next generation of mining talent?

DS: In anticipation of increased retirements and rebounding coal demand, we’re actively encouraging the next generation of engineers and technicians to join Arch through university and trade school outreach and co-op programs. We also cultivate younger leaders internally.

WC: Arch is involved in a number of research partnerships to improve the environmental impact of mining. Can you tell us a bit more about the work and results of these partnerships? Why are such partnerships so important?
DS: Working in public-private partnerships and with independent researchers from a wide array of technical disciplines allows us the opportunity to take a more holistic approach to the environment.

Take for example our efforts to reduce selenium concentrations onsite in Appalachia. Arch is leading the industry in developing bioremediation. Compared to active selenium treatment systems, the passive solution is a lower-cost solution and eliminates the need for chemical treatment and byproduct disposal.

WC: What does being a good neighbour mean to Arch, how do you do it and why is it important?
DS: We invest in our communities, from reclaiming sites for economic development to supporting local schools and teachers through education-related initiatives. We do it for two reasons: first, we view it as our responsibility as a civic-minded natural resources company – and we believe that you simply won’t be successful in our industry without positive relationships with our neighbours; second, our employees live and work in these communities – so investing in the quality of life is an investment in employee recruitment and retention.

WC: Arch forms only the first part of the chain that turns coal into electricity: tell us about your work with the wider coal community to try to clean up coal?
DS: Capturing carbon is a priority, but it’s not our only focus. We’re working with a technology partner, for example, to offer a new, proprietary, pre-combustion treatment of Powder River Basin coal to help reduce mercury emissions from coal-based power plants. This mercury solution enables our thermal coal customers to achieve environmental compliance, increase beneficial coal ash use and deliver positive business results. Longer term, we believe that technology is also the answer to climate concerns.

The fact is that the world’s fastest growing countries are building their economies on coal. Coal has been the fastest growing fuel source on the planet for the past 10 years, and we don’t expect that to change in the next 10. As a result, the world will need a low-carbon solution for coal, as well as for natural gas, if we are serious about reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

WC: So, can coal be a viable part of a cleaner energy future? The current administration seems to be answering that question in the negative. What is Arch’s view – and what would your message to Washington be?
DS: Coal is an essential American energy resource and – as discussed in the previous answer – coal will be part of the world’s energy future, period. The question is this: will we continue to advance coal-based technologies or not. We think the answer needs to be a resounding “yes.”

Here in the US, the use of coal leads to much lower electricity rates, increases US energy security and increases competitiveness. Elsewhere, coal holds the key to lifting billions out of energy poverty, lengthening longevity, reducing infant mortality rates and a host of other benefits that those of us in the developed world take for granted.

The reality is that coal is far cleaner today than it was a few decades ago, with non-GHG emissions down more than 90% per unit of coal consumed. It’s also important to point out that the industry is taking significant steps to make coal more climate-friendly right now – efforts that eventually will lead to technologies that will cut coal-related carbon emissions to near-zero. We believe that trying to dial coal out of the energy equation would be a huge mistake. Instead, we encourage the president to press ahead with establishing mechanisms that will encourage the rapid development of advanced coal technologies and, in doing so, seek to make America a leader in supplying such technologies to increasingly coal-dependent economies around the globe.

Deck Slone
Slone is Arch Coal’s senior vice president, strategy and public policy, responsible for strategy formation, planning and energy market analysis; government and public affairs; and coal technology investments.


 Written by Jonathan Rowland

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