The new Congress has made quick work of former President Obama’s last-minute attempt to finish off the coal industry. Both the House and Senate used the Congressional Review Act to roll back the previous administration’s Stream Protection Rule, and President Trump is expected to give his approval.
West Virginia’s Congressional delegation stood united in supporting the act.
“Fortunately with President Trump, we now have a partner in the White House who understands how irresponsible and harmful these bureaucratic overreaches can be,” said Congressman David McKinley (R-1st).
The Obama administration spent six years working on standards that would make it increasingly difficult to get a permit to operate a surface or underground coal mine. Along the way, the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement shut out state agencies that have jurisdiction and handed over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service veto power of permits.
A study by the National Mining Association estimated that the new regulations would have reduced the amount of recoverable coal between 51 percent and 88 percent in underground mines and 38 percent to 67 percent in surface mines, as well as put one-third of all coal jobs at risk.
These rules, along with the Clean Power Plan, which is currently on hold by order of the U.S. Supreme Court, would have put coal out of business, which is exactly what the anti-carbon crowd has been pushing.
The Obama administration’s EPA hurt West Virginia’s economy badly. The state is benefiting from the enormous reserves of gas now accessible through hydraulic fracturing, but drilling doesn’t create as many jobs as coal mining and increased severance tax collections on gas are not enough to offset the loss in coal severance tax.
For Fiscal Year 2012, coal companies paid $531 million in severance taxes, with $421 million going into the state treasury. (Tthe rest went to local governments and for debt service on the Workers Compensation Fund.) Just four years later, those collections and distributions had been reduced by half. Imagine how much easier it would be to solve the state’s budget problems with another $200 million from coal severance and the additional revenue from higher consumer sales and income tax collections.
Coal will never be the dominant energy source it once was, but it is still an integral part of the global energy portfolio. The new administration is Washington is at least going to give coal a fighting chance.
Coal still must hold its own against cheap and clean natural gas, as well as alternative fuels, but coal companies won’t have to worry about fighting a Washington-imposed death spiral.
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