Coal must overcome ‘unsafe’ perception
Charleston Gazette - WV, USA
September 16, 2007
BLUEFIELD — The coal industry always seems to be under attack. To hear industry people tell it, this is true now more than ever.
Coal’s impact on the environment is a big problem. As has been widely reported, some people have gone so far as to label coal a filthy fuel. Industry leaders are still coping with the fact that Congress passed an energy bill earlier this summer that promotes alternative fuels but ignores coal.
Safety may be an even bigger problem. Following last year’s Sago Mine disaster and Aracoma mine fire, the industry was subject to new state and federal safety laws.
Chris Hamilton, senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association, told Bluefield Coal Show attendees, “Unfortunately, the tragic events last year overshadowed decades of improvements and have not accurately portrayed how technologically advanced or how safe mining has become.”
Many industry leaders believe that the recent death of six miners and three rescue workers at the Crandall Canyon mine in Utah will result in another round of regulation.
Following Crandall Canyon, Brett Harvey, president and chief executive officer of Consol Energy Inc., told the Utah Mining Association, “How we deal with the issue of mine safety going forward may very well determine the future of our industry. Not just mining underground, but the future of coal in our nation’s energy mix.”
Harvey, a Utah native, asked, “If we are perceived as ‘a dirty business’ when it comes to safety, why would our friends in Congress or the agencies work with us on other important issues? This perception even jeopardizes our role as a key provider of energy to the U.S. economy.”
Gov. Joe Manchin, speaking at the opening of the Bluefield Coal Show, said there are some who want to write coal out of the nation’s energy equation.
Bill Tate, executive vice president of Bucyrus International Inc., told a coal show audience that recent accidents “have made it very difficult at a time when we have so much of a negative force trying to hurt this industry.”
The mining equipment business has an inherent likelihood to succeed, Tate said. “There are only safety issues like Sago and Aracoma and Crandall Canyon that can stop us,” he said. “Concentrate on safety because it’s the only thing that can stop this ball rolling.
“We have to fight these battles,” he said. “Can we solve these issues? I know we can. We must work through these challenges. It will take a multiple-course approach.”
Harvey has challenged the industry to abandon its incremental approach to mine safety improvement and “drive accident rates to zero at every mine in the nation.”
Tate believes mine owners, manufacturers, coal state politicians, coal trade groups and grass-roots organizations need to tell coal’s positive points. “Anywhere you can contribute, this is the time to help,” he said.
Manchin said there’s an old saying, “If you don’t tell your own story, someone else will tell a story on you.” He said, “I don’t believe we’ve told our own story. I really believe we need somebody speaking nationally on energy and what can be done.”
Manchin advised the coal people to “make sure you have a single message that speaks to the value of what coal can do for our nation.”