By Ben Beakes
Executive Director of WV Affairs, Metallurgical Coal Producers Association
Since Election Day, many have been asking, “What does a Biden administration mean for coal?” It’s a validquestion, but unfortunate that a change in political administrations can have such influence over industriesacross our country and, as a result, the employees relying on those jobs. These are realities we know well, as thereare arguably few industries with more experience inchanging political tides than the coal industry.
Our goal is not to decry the actions of previous administrations and the subsequent harm to jobs, demand for our product, and the communities where coal miners live and work, though that would be fair criticism. Instead, we pragmatically assess how we move forward from here. As the saying goes: we are where we are.
And where is that? During the past decade in theUnited States, roughly 100 gigawatts (GW) of coal-fired capacity has been closed or transitioned to another fuel source. That is more than one-third of the nation’s coal-fired output from its peak of 314 GW in 2011 according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Coal production levels have subsequently dropped, falling to the lowest level of production since 1978.
The type of coal that feeds coal-fired power plants is thermal coal, or steam coal. As power companies continue to move away from coal and toward other sources, including renewables, it is unreasonable to expect that thermal coal production can return to previous levels. This is where we are.
So, where does coal go from here?
In September of this year, four leading coal producers took a bold step in forging a path toward a different future for coal. Together, Contura Energy, Inc., Coronado Coal LLC, United Coal Company LLC (a subsidiary of Metinvest Group), and RAMACO Resources, Inc. formed the Metallurgical Coal Producers Association (MCPA).
These producers have all shifted their production significantly away from thermal coal and almost solely to metallurgical coal, or steel-making coal. Many people do not realize that steel is made with metallurgical coal. The bridges, buildings, and kitchen appliances that make up everyday life are directly linked to the coal we mine.Along with our members, the MCPA’s mission is to educate the public on metallurgical coal’s opportunities and to help policymakers understand the role it can play in the future of infrastructure here at home and across the globe.
For policymakers and others interested in what the future of coal looks like, here are a few points of consideration:
First, when you think of coal, think of steel. Metallurgical coal has nothing to do with coal-fired electric generation and everything to do with the production of steel.
Second, our Central Appalachian region—West Virginia and Southwest Virginia—is home to some of the best quality metallurgical coal in the world.
Third, we compete on a global scale. It is commonplace to compare against other states and craft policy on such a basis. But legislative changes made hereat home can affect our global position—for the good or bad.
Fourth and finally, critical infrastructure upgradescan benefit coal country and the economy as a whole.Building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure requires steel, which requires metallurgical coal.
The coal industry has been criticized for hanging on to the past or resisting change. Instead, the members of the MCPA have charted a positive path forward that is gaining traction. In a few short months since its inception,roughly one hundred associate members have joined the MCPA. We still support our colleagues mining thermal coal, and we will continue working with other associations to advocate on behalf of the entire industry.
As we walk down the path of change, we encourage both supporters and those who have traditionally not supported us to join our effort to promote the coal industry of the future.
The Metallurgical Coal Producers Association (formerly the Virginia Coal & Energy Alliance) is a non-profit organization made up of metallurgical coal producers and those who support our producing members’ operations. Our emphasis is on metallurgical coal, the issues related to it, and the opportunities metallurgical coal brings to our region. Further, our region is our collective strength. The association actively advocates and promotes the metallurgical coal industry in the eastern U.S., specifically Central Appalachia.