Over the past few weeks, the Northern Hemisphere has been shivering in the grip of a particularly vicious cold snap. Average temperatures for cities including Chicago, New York, Seoul, Beijing, Berlin and London are set to be the lowest in more than 30 years. Earlier this month, the US National Weather Service issued a 'hard freeze' warning from Houston, Texas, along the Gulf Coast to Tampa, Florida: the cold caused particular problems for the Sunshine State’s fruit industry, which has had to step up harvests to avoid crop damage. In the UK, 28 cm of snow ground the south of the country to a standstill, while severe snowstorms also hit Germany and China.
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All of which gives the coal industry a warm glow for the New Year. Electricity demand had hit record levels as people battle against the cold, driving demand for coal up. Rising gas prices and expectations of a healthier world economy in 2010 also gave coal a boost: coal futures touched an 11 month high at the beginning of the month.
Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seems to have reversed its cold shoulder approach to mountaintop mining, approving Patriot Coal Corp.’s permit for a new mine in West Virginia. A federal court in West Virginia also agreed to extend a deadline for discussions with Arch Coal Inc.’s subsidiary, Mingo Logan Mining Co., about an already-issued permit, which the EPA halted late last year.
As the cold once again proves the importance of the coal industry, it is good to see that the EPA may be softening its obstructionist approach. But what is needed is clarity: to flip-flop about the issue does no good and much harm to an industry that still provides much of the US with power. Whatever the environmental arguments, coal will remain an essential fuel source for some time yet. Regulators and Governments – and not only in the US – should wake up to that fact and allow the coal industry to continue what it does best: providing the energy to keep the lights (and the heat) on.
This year should prove to be an important one for the coal industry. With the world slowly rising from recession, China and India seeking to meet their almost insatiable appetite for power, climate change discussions continuing and clean coal technologies developing fast, much could, and surely will, change. As always, World Coal will continue to provide in-depth coverage of all the issues that matter. In the meantime, we wish all of our readers a very happy and successful 2010!