Yet coal production in our state is expected to decline precipitously. Why?
Government policies play a major role — and they may become even more detrimental — believes the head of a major coal company that is poised to grow in West Virginia.
Alpha Natural Resources already is a substantial producer of coal. The firm plans to buy another well-known Mountain State mining company, Massey Energy. If that happens the merger would create the state’s third-largest employer.
But Alpha is not putting all its eggs in the Appalachian coal basket...
Chief Executive Officer Kevin Crutchfield explained a steep decline in the amount of Appalachian coal produced for power plants is expected. The U.S. Energy Information Administration backs that analysis, predicting coal production from the Central Appalachian Basin, including southern West Virginia, will drop 40 percent by 2015.
Many factors are involved. Coal production is cheaper in some other regions of the country. Natural gas has become a competitor for use in power plants. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is prepared to ‘‘take a bite out of coal,’’ Crutchfield said.
The EPA’s campaign against coal already has begun, as West Virginians are painfully aware. It is expected to intensify — and that may be one reason why some utilities are planning new power stations using gas instead of coal.
In part because of the gigantic Marcellus Shale field, gas has become less expensive. And burning it in power plants is far less likely to bring down the wrath of the EPA on a utility. Retiring old coal-fired power stations in favor of new gas burners makes sense from a long-term financial viewpoint.
But abandoning coal makes no sense as part of a rational, farsighted national energy policy, of course. It is an economical way to generate power, saving gas for more critical uses such as transportation.
Crutchfield is right. U.S. energy policy — what little there is of it — seems aimed at destroying the coal industry. If that doesn’t change soon, the damage may be irreversible.