In a very real sense, products from the earth must be grown or mined.
West Virginia can do either one.
Coal mined in the Mountain State is in demand by factories and power plants around the world, and the state’s vast hardwood forests are being touted as a major renewable resource of the future.
In fact, the state’s mining and timber industries appear to be thriving and prospering in the 21st century.
Coal means more than $80 billion a year to the U.S. economy and jobs for more than 1 million Americans.
Low-cost coal and new evolving technologies couldsteer the American marketplace toward record production of 1 billion tons annually.
Although many Americans under the age of 35 have never seen a lump of coal, the fuel generates more than 55 percent of America’s electric power.
Anyone who clicks on the lights, or turns on the television, or works at a computer has a vested interest in the future of coal.
Coal is the power behind electricity—our electricity.
Industry officials are carrying the same message along with the National Coal Association.
They are stressing that coal provides almost three times more electric power than any other fuel, helping to make electric power the cheapest in the world.
Much of that coal is mined right here in West Virginia.
The future of coal in the Mountain State looks bright.
The importance of coal has been enhanced during recent decades, since the nation’s service, retail and manufacturing industries depend on low-cost electricity to stay competitive. About 60 percent of U.S. coal is from surface mines while in underground mining, computer-aided long wall machinery has resulted in an 80 percent rise in average productivity in just the last decade.
Currently, there are about 1.1 million Americans whose jobs directly depend on the coal industry.
The nation’s 120,000 coal miners produce 1 billion tons of coal a year and create jobs in electric power production, transportation, mine management, and support industries.
What is more, coal production directly pumps more than $20 billion into the U.S. economy—larger than the budget for the U.S. Department of Education.
The total economic impact of coal, which includes the output of industries that depend on the fossil fuel, is more than $80 billion.
Many view the mission of coal production and transportation in America as an important link to the country’s economic future.
Coal exports of nearly $5 billion to 50 countries help the U.S. trade deficit.
The U.S. has the second largest coal reserves in the world—more than the total world reserves of natural gas or oil.
There is more than 240 years’ worth of recoverable coal reserves in the U.S. More than 80 percent of coal produced in the U.S. is for electric power.
Coal is the nation’s most abundant and economic energy source, and it generates nearly 60 percent of the nation’s electricity.
As far as most West Virginians are concerned, coal is still king.
And yet, despite coal’s continued importance—both as a fuel and as an ingredient in metals—the role of timbering throughout the coal fields of West Virginia is very important, too, according to the West Virginia Division of Forestry in Charleston.
“When coal is mined out, it’s gone. But timber is arenewable resource, and proper management enables timber to grow and renew itself in perpetuity,” an assistant state forester told me recently. “That’s what we in forestry refer to as sustainability—that’s a big term you hear in forestry nowadays.”
In West Virginia, the timber resource is 95 percent hardwood trees. And these trees regenerate naturally, either from seed or from stump and root sprouts.
In addition, the Mountain State currently is growing more timber than is being cut by the logging industry.
The growth to harvest ratio shows that we are growing about 1.3 board feet for each board foot that we harvest, according to forestry department figures.
As far as the timber industry is concerned, West Virginia ranks among the top five in all hardwood–producing states.
In fact, our industry has greatly increased in the past few years, to be sure. We are now using more of each tree that we cut. Some of the engineered wood product plants now are using materials from the tops of trees that were previously left in the woods.
Therefore, there’s reason to be optimistic about the future of the timber industry in the 21st century:
Good forest stewardship by landowners ensures timber manufacturing facilities of a steady source of raw materials for the future.
Top o’ the morning!