41st Annual Coal Symposium Deemed a Success
Murray, Thrasher, Manchin & Morrisey Headline the Event

In a keynote address to the Association’s 41st Annual Symposium held January 29-31 in Charleston, Robert “Bob” Murray, the Founder, President, Chairman & CEO of Murray Energy Corp., talked about the threats and opportunities he sees ahead for West Virginia’s and America’s coal industry in the future.

While closing out the Association’s 2014 three-day Annual Mining Symposium, WVCA Chairman, Jim Laurita, deemed the event a success.  Recognizing and thanking the 58 speakers, the vendors and associate members who proudly displayed their products, luncheon sponsors and the 6oo mining professionals who were on hand to hear the state’s political and industry leaders talk about the state of the coal industry, Laurita observed that the individuals on hand represented all disciplines within the industry (ie. operations, safety, technical) and the basic fabric of our industry.
Ernie Thrasher, CEO of X-Coal let the other speakers who included Senator Joe Manchin, a delegation from the West Virginia Legislative Coal Caucus, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Labor Joe Main, MSHA Director Kevin Stricklin and three MSHA district directors, West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Randy Huffman, Office of Miners’ Health Safety and Training Director Eugene White, and a host of others discussing various mining-related issues.

In his remarks, Murray was unflinching in his criticism of the Obama Administration and the damage it has done to West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania and other coal producing states.
“I don’t think there is any question we will continue to see decreases in employment in the coal industry in West Virginia as a result of the actions of President Barack Obama, his radical appointees – mostly from the environmental movements – and his political supporters,” Murray said, adding that Central Appalachian coal production is down 43 percent from 2008 levels – along with a reduction in jobs – and he predicts more declines.
“I look for the 43 percent to increase as more and more regulations are enacted by the Obama administration,” he said. “He has so far closed 392 coal-fired power plants in the United States – that’s a loss of about 100,000 megawatts of electricity.
“It’s a human issue to me because I know the names of these miners whose jobs and family livelihoods are being destroyed,” Murray said. “If they own anything, it’s their homes, and when the jobs are eliminated in their communities, there is no one to sell their homes to. These are people who want to work in honor and dignity and they’re being denied that. These are my employees.
“This is not the America that I cherish.”
Murray Energy is based in St. Clairsville, Ohio. With the December purchase of Consol’s Shoemaker Mine in Ohio County, McElroy Mine in Marshall County, Loveridge Mine in Marion County, Robinson Run Mine in Harrison County and Blacksville Mine in Monongalia County, Murray Energy became the fifth largest coal producer in the United States.  Each of these mines have been renamed to reflect the county in which they are located. Murray Energy now has 7,100 employees and operates a total of 13 active mines in West Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Utah. Murray Energy was established in 1988.
Following Murray, X-Coal CEO Ernie Thrasher gave a presentation on the outlook for coal exports. Thrasher said that while the overseas market for American coal was getting tighter, demand for coal was still growing in both Europe and Asia.
“Although the rate of growth was, and remains, lower than previous years, year-on-year demand for seaborne coal continues to grow,” Thrasher said. “Due to the challenging state of the global economy, customers are utilizing lower grade coking coals and thermal coals to reduce costs and pricing continues to be driven by an oversupply.”
Thrasher said that while Chinese economic growth had slowed somewhat recently, there has not been a collapse of the market as some have suggested. He noted that even with the slowdown, the Chinese economy was still growing at a significantly faster pace than India, the U.S. or the European Union. He also noted that the Chinese demand for coal had surpassed the rest of the world’s demand for the first time in 2012 and was projected to continue that trend.
The bottom line, Thrasher said, is that coal is essential for these countries to develop their economies and they know it.
“Coal, as a low cost and reliable source of energy in these emerging and developing countries, is contributing to economic development and improved living standards for the people in these countries,” Thrasher said, noting that is appears the market has reached bottom and is beginning to build again. “The good news is that the market seems to have ‘bottomed.’ Market prices for coking coal and thermal coal have stabilized. Sellers are seeing the first signs of improved pricing.”
However, Thrasher cautioned about being overly optimistic.
“The bad news is that the market and the industry are likely to remain in this low priced environment until annual demand growth absorbs the excess production currently in the market and the projects that are in the final stages of development,” Thrasher said.
Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor, Joe Main addressed the Symposium later during the Thursday session.
In his remarks, Main said that mine safety has been on a steady path of improvement since the agency began implementing reforms and that most importantly, during this period, the industry achieved the lowest fatality and injury rates in the history of mining in 2011 and again in 2012, a trend that has continued through 2013.
"MSHA (The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration) has put into place a number of initiatives that we believe have improved mine safety and health and mine emergency response," said Main.
Among other recommendations, MSHA overhauled its mine inspection handbooks, implemented new inspection procedures on rock dusting of mines to prevent coal dust explosions, and implemented a centralized directive system for the development and to ensure consistency of the agency's policies.
Main highlighted these and other actions, noting that MSHA and the mining community still have work to do. However, as he stated: "Certainly, the progress we have made in mine safety in recent years lets us know that greater improvements are achievable. We owe the nation's miners that much."
Earlier in the Wednesday session, MSHA Administrator Kevin Stricklin gave what he called the “50,000 foot view of MSHA.” He was joined in his review by district administrators, Bob Cornett, Steve Mandeville and Tim Watkins, of MSHA Districts 3, 4 and 12, respectively.

Stricklin said he was happy to report that mine fatalities have been more than halved in the past four years – from 48 in 2010 to just 20 in 2013 – but he was realistic in his belief that we will ever get to zero, which he said must be the goal.

“Last night we had a fatal in West Virginia but it appears to have been a heart attack, still they all have to be investigated,” Stricklin noted. “We have to strive for zero, but I don’t think we will see it in my career. But I would like to see it in my lifetime. Very few are truly an act of God, almost all when you get right down to it can be prevented.”

Stricklin said the industry appears to have “hit a plateau of about 20 fatalities a year” and noted that “we have to work together to get below that plateau.”

Some recent improvements he thinks will be very beneficial, including the use of proximity detectors, which he thinks can save three to four lives a year. Still, he said he sees improvement – some of which can seem invisible at times.

He credited the drop in violations the agency has seen to two factors – the drop in the number of producing mines and improvements in safety made by the operators themselves.

“Operators have gotten better and are doing things to correct violations on their own,” Stricklin said. “We can only measure when things go wrong, not what we are doing right to prevent accidents.”

Following Stricklin and the MSHA regional directors, Joel Watts of the Office of Miners’ Health, Safety and Training provided an overview of the pending proximity detection legislation.

During Friday’s capstone session, Sen. Joe Manchin was on hand to discuss what is happening in Washington, DC.

Looking around the room, Manchin told the crowd that “this is what it is all about. I want to thank you for keeping the lights on and energizing this country.”

Manchin said it wasn’t that long ago that America was facing an oil embargo and as long as 40 years ago, President Nixon had called for American energy independence. Today, he said, we are within sight of achieving that goal. Manchin said we have the domestic energy supplies to meet and exceed our needs but we need a sound energy policy to finally achieve that goal and coal must play a significant role in that effort.

“Coal remains the world’s most dependable fuel,” Manchin said. “EIA says coal will be dominant form of energy for the next 30 to 40 years.”

Manchin said simply looking around the world provides all the evidence you should need of the truth of  that – pointing to Asian and European reliance on coal despite the long-term effort to diversify the energy mix.

“We see what Germany is doing right now and it is unbelievable,” Manchin said, speaking of the recent German actions to begin building almost a dozen new coal-fired power plants to help meet the needs of a growing economy.

Like Germany, Manchin said, “West Virginia has all of the above energy policy – we want it all.” He pointed out that money is out there, already approved, to help with that process and he is co-sponsoring a new piece of legislation to force the Obama Administration to turn loose some of the money. 

“I am co-sponsoring the Energy Independence Act of 2014,” Manchin said. “It will require the Obama Administration to spend at least $2 billion of the $8 billion that has been laying there since 2008 for coal technology.”

Manchin also spoke of continuing efforts to rein-in the EPA.

“Together with Senators Hoeven and Whitfield, we are sponsoring a new piece of legislation that will require the EPA to adopt a more common sense approach to the New Source Performance Standards regulations. We want them to take the five best coal-fired power plants in the nation – including Longview near Morgantown – and use them as the template for the new NSPS standards.”

Manchin said doing so would move emissions control forward in a realistic manner that protects jobs of coal miners and coal-fired power plant workers.

West Virginia Attorney General Pat Morrisey followed Manchin on Friday morning. Morrisey outlined the efforts his office has undertaken to combat the Obama Administration’s overreach.

“When I took office I pledged to fight federal overreach with every tool in our toolbox,” Morrisey said. “Earlier this week, Obama said he was willing to act without Congress. He has a track record of deciding which laws he would enforce and not – a real disregard for the rule of law. Fortunately now, states attorneys general are fighting back. We are trying to ensure that the public knows we are trying to keep every level of government accountable.”

Morrisey said… “On the EPA front we have submitted multiple briefs and challenges. We have joined together with 27 states on a brief asking the Supreme Court to intervene on the Mingo- Logan case. This case has had a chilling effect on – not just the coal industry, but industry in general and the general public. Our goal is to make sure that the EPA NEVER exceeds its statutory charge. We think the EPA has violated the rule of law consistently during this administration. Coal remains an important part of the fabric of life in West Virginia. We are going to do our best to make sure West Virginia leads on these important national issues.

Morrisey said his office is taking a much more activist role in fighting against federal overreach. 

“Prior to this past year, there had not been any Supreme Court briefs offered by West Virginia Attorney General’s office for decades,” Morrisey said.

Forty-two West Virginia mining operations were recognized by the industry for their safety efforts in 2013 at Thursday’s Mountaineer Guardian Awards banquet, with Phoenix Coal-Mac’s Holden 22 Surface Mine in Logan County taking the Bart B. Lay Milestones in Safety Award and Rockspring Development’s Camp Creek No. 1 in Wayne County and Mingo-Logan’s Mountaineer II mine in Logan County sharing the Eustace E. Frederick Milestones in Safety Award.

“Our members are committed to doing everything possible to ensure our coal miners return home safely at the end of their shifts each day,” said West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney. “Each and every one of our companies work hard every day to meet the highest standards of workplace safety.
“Phoenix Coal-Mac Mining’s Holden 22 operation, Rockspring Development’s Camp Creek No. 1 Mine and Mingo-Logan Mountaineer II operations have consistently shown a commitment to safety that goes above and beyond what is required by state and federal regulations,” West Virginia Coal Association Senior Vice President Chris Hamilton said. “They have raised the bar for the rest of the industry, showing their true dedication to the safety of their employees, and they are greatly deserving of this award.” 

The West Virginia Coal Association’s Mountaineer Guardian Awards are presented each year to mining companies that have demonstrated a commitment to safety standards.  Inspectors for the West Virginia Office of Mine Health Safety and Training nominate companies based on numerous criteria.
And Arch Coal, Inc. and its Leer Mining Complex in Taylor County claimed the state’s top award for environmental stewardship –The Greenlands Award – during the Environmental Awards banquet held Friday.
Thirteen other companies were also recognized for their commitment to the environment at the Symposium, one of the nation’s top coal industry events.
In presenting The Greenlands Award to Arch Coal, West Virginia Coal Association President Bill Raney said, “This award is for their work to minimize adverse impacts on the regional ecosystem while considering the welfare, concerns, and issues of residents from the Tygart Valley area.”
Apogee Coal Co., LLC’s North Rum Surface Mine in Logan County took home the National Wild Turkey Federation Award for its work in restoring former surface mine land for wildlife habitat. Raney said Apogee’s work goes “above and beyond normal reclamation requirements in an effort to attract wild turkey and a variety of other wildlife species to the reclaimed sites through the development of food sources, water and areas of cover.”
Hobet Mining, LLC’s Big Horse Creek Surface Mine in Boone and Wyoming counties was awarded the Ducks Unlimited Award for reclamation. Raney said, “Hobet employees have gone above and beyond normal reclamation requirements in an effort to attract ducks and a variety of other wildlife species to the reclaimed sites. To enhance its natural attraction to ducks, several duck boxes were installed around some of the ponds to provide secure nesting sites.”
“These winners demonstrate the importance our industry places on being environmentally responsible,” Raney said. “We always say coal miners are the real environmentalists. When you look at the work that is actually done there is no doubt about the accuracy of that statement.”
For a complete listing of all winners along with photos of the awards banquets, see our website at www.wvcoal.com.


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