Lawmakers worry about air regulations cutting coal mining jobs
Chuck Shaynak worries about the effect new federal air regulations could have on the coal mines in which he's worked for 35 years, though his concerns are a little different from those voiced by lawmakers.
As state legislators and industry leaders pledged to fight proposed rules they argue will put some mines and coal-fired power plants out of business, Shaynak was thinking of the young miners he oversees at Consol Energy Inc.
“It's a personal position for them to think about their families and worry about jobs. And that's a distraction for them, which can be a dangerous thing down here,” Shaynak, a senior vice president for Pennsylvania coal operations at Consol, said on Friday as he helped lead lawmakers on a tour of the company's Bailey mine complex beneath Greene and Washington counties.
“We're well-positioned. But there's still a lot of concern down here, and we're trying to communicate to them our position,” he said.
The Environmental Protection Agency this week announced its first proposed limits on carbon emissions from existing power plants, which the agency predicts will cut coal production by 18 percent. State lawmakers such as Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Waynesburg, worry what will happen in a state where coal supports 63,000 jobs.
“If those mines were to close tomorrow, it would take Greene County to its knees,” she said.
Despite dire predictions for the coal industry, Consol officials say they won't soon cut back at the complex, where the Cecil-based company opened the BMX extension this year and spent $2 billion on improving operations over the past decade.
“I believe these longwalls will be the last operating in the United States. They will outlive us all,” said Jimmy Brock, chief operating officer of Consol's coal division.
Consol improved the mine complex, opened the extension and made its transportation and distribution systems more efficient in anticipation of tougher regulations and a tighter market, said Tommy Johnson, vice president for external relations. The company last year sold several mines and is putting the majority of its capital budget toward growing its natural gas production while maintaining the mines.
Analysts and investors are bullish on the company. Consol's stock closed Friday at $47.45, near its 52-week high, and up 7.4 percent since the EPA announced the proposed emissions rules Monday. Goldman Sachs upgraded its outlook for the company, citing cash flow from coal and the focus on gas exploration. Analyst Sterne Agee said Consol was well-placed to handle the regulations.
“The company didn't sit and wait. It was very proactive,” said state Rep. Ted Harhai, D-Monessen. “I think back 10 years ago, the difference with the improvements here is astronomical. And they're striking a good business balance.”
The improvements include a new facility for loading coal onto rail cars at the complex, which is served by two lines. When some mines said cold weather hurt their ability to move out coal during the cold winter, Consol had record-high production during the first quarter, the company said.
Consol's goal is to supply the most critical power plants — those that are not expected to close under the pressure of tougher air rules — while looking at international markets such as China for export from its Baltimore terminal. The company sends steam coal from Bailey and metallurgical coal from Bailey and a Virginia mine to 19 countries, said spokesman Brian Aiello.
Consol is convinced it will have customers for its coal, even if the market shrinks under EPA rules.
Whatever the EPA ends up imposing won't be decided for several years. But lawmakers said they are organizing opposition.
Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, said the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee he chairs will hold a hearing June 27 to discuss economic impacts of the federal proposal. He likened the foundation of electrical generation to a three-legged stool, supported by coal, gas, and “everything else.”
“If you take one away or cut it, everyone will be impacted. It won't be stable. And that's what people are concerned about,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Banshee trailer featuring Vandergrift released
- Police: Woman, 18, pretended to be student, assaulted Perry principal
- Guns, drugs recovered during raid in Wilkinsburg
- Allegheny County Airport Authority approves 3.4 percent budget increase for 2016
- Steelers quarterback Vick getting more acquainted with offense
- Penguins see Stars, blanked by Dallas in opening game
- Starkey: Pirates gaining bad big-game rep
- Pittsburgh zoo receives $9M gift — largest ever — from Mellon Foundation
- Can’t believe ATI statements
- Pirates notebook: Fastball command issues hurt Cole against Cubs
- A field day on social media as Pirates’ Rodriguez attacks Gatorade cooler