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Coal Must Remain in U.S. Energy Mix

During a meeting of world leaders this month who traveled in their private jets to Glasgow, Scotland, to discuss how they could save the climate, U.S. Climate Envoy John Kerry boldly proclaimed that, within eight years, coal no longer would be used for power generation.

John Kerry

How that’s possible when coal makes up about 20 percent of the nation’s power generation today — and remains a stable, affordable, dependable fuel to create electricity — is yet to be seen.

Then there’s the question of exactly what Kerry and others in the Biden administration propose for the tens of thousands of families in our nation who depend on coal to put food on the table. Coal provides for 42,000 American families, with more than 11,000 of those living in West Virginia. There are 4,818 miners living in Pennsylvania and 517 living in Ohio.

U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-Wheeling, had choice words for Kerry: “Yet again, elitist John Kerry showed what the Biden administration truly believes — they don’t care about coal workers or their families,” McKinley said. “Kerry spent (last) week promising climate activists that by 2030 the U.S. ‘won’t have coal.’ West Virginia wants to know, Mr. Kerry, how do you expect to tell these folks they don’t have a job anymore? Democrats could not be more out-of-touch.”

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Biden Says No More Coal, But Data Shows It's Easier Said Than Done

“We’re going to be shutting these plants down all across America.”

That was President Joe Biden’s bold pledge late last year regarding coal plants around the country. Speaking at an event in California in November, the president vowed that “coal-fired electric” plants would be shuttered en masse in favor of “wind and solar.”

“No one is building new coal plants because they can’t rely on it, even if they have all the coal guaranteed for the rest of their existence of the plant,” he said at the time.

But the latest data tell a different story. Modern economies like the U.S. and Europe aren’t ready to walk away from coal quite yet. In fact, 2022 set a global record for coal generation, and America just experienced a surge in coal-powered energy. While federal data indicate coal consumption peaked in the U.S. about 15 years ago and has been declining since, it rose in 2021 for the first time since 2013.

“Most people talk about coal in the past tense, as if it’s no longer relevant to energy generation,” said Neil Chatterjee, a former commissioner and chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. “It’s still a fifth of all power generation.”

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Manchin Announces $18.8 Million for Projects Including King Coal Highway and Coalfields Expressway

More than $18 million for eight West Virginia highway projects, which was made possible by Congressionally Directed Spending, includes funding for the King Coal Highway and the Coalfields Expressway.

U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, announced Thursday that $18,880,000 for eight West Virginia highway projects is being made available. The awards are made possible by CDS requests secured by Manchin and are funded through the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

Joe Manchin

"West Virginia's infrastructure plays a critical role in our state's economy, which is why improving, modernizing, and expanding our roads, bridges and highways continues to be one of my top priorities," Manchin said. "I proudly secured this funding to support eight critical highway projects across our great state, which will boost local tourism, spur economic development and promote safe and secure travel for all West Virginians. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue advocating for resources, including CDS funding, to improve our roads and bridges as we address the infrastructure needs of the Mountain State."

Congressionally Directed Spending (CDS), also known as earmarks, allow state and local governments, non-profits, and other public entities to apply for targeted funding for projects to bolster their communities and directly support West Virginians. Manchin said these local communities and organizations are now beginning to receive funding for projects that he fought for in last year's funding bill. He also said as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he works to ensure taxpayer dollars are allocated to priorities that benefit all West Virginians, boost economic growth and support the needs of communities across the West Virginia while remaining fiscally responsible.

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Legislature, Governor Enact Policies to Enhance Grid Stability and WV Coal Use

With the passage of several bills this Legislative Session, state policy makers took unprecedented steps to stabilize the region’s electric grid and encourage the development of energy using West Virginia coal.

“All West Virginians should thank their legislator and the Governor for prioritizing the reliability of our electric grid and the maximization of our in-state coal resources,” said Chris Hamilton, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “The package of legislation they passed and the Governor signed will help protect us against us against calamitous weather events, like winter storm this past December that almost brought down the grid, and ensure jobs for our miners and continued economic activity for our communities.”

In particular, House Bill 3482, House Bill 3303, and Senate Bill 609 will have lasting impact on West Virginia families, Hamilton said.

House Bill 3482 creates the Coal Fired Grid Stabilization and Security Act of 2023, which will encourage the development, transportation, and use of electricity generated using West Virginia coal as the energy source for generating electricity. The bill directs the Department of Economic Development to designate sites viable for coal electric generation projects.

House Bill 3303 will offer assistance to expand the continued operation and reliance on West Virginia coal for mine operations, coal-fired electric utilities, and other coal assets in the state. Additionally, the bill will enhance the activities of the Coalfield Community Development Office to aid the industry while also implementing an educational program to promote the state’s coal industry.

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Handcuffed to Natural Gas Volatility

Can U.S. natural gas be two maddeningly contradictory things at the same time? The answer appears to be a resounding yes. The nation’s supply of natural gas has become both the crutch of the U.S. energy system and also an energy affordability and reliability landmine.

Once persistent fears of natural gas shortages were turned on their head by fracking and a gusher of Wall Street financing chasing growth in the shale patch. But now, more than a year into a global energy crisis and with U.S. gas export capacity continuing to soar, stable domestic gas market dynamics that were a constant for a decade are gone. In their place is a return to crippling supply shortfalls in some markets during peak demand and the reemergence of natural gas price volatility.

The Wall Street Journal recently found that, “last year was the most volatile on record for natural gas boosting the cost to heat homes, generate electricity and manufacture economic building blocks such as fertilizer and steel.” That volatility is continuing this year with an expectation from energy traders and major gas buyers that the frenetic, see-sawing market will now be the norm. And troublingly for customers across the country, the loss of so much coal capacity means they’re largely stuck buying gas to keep the lights on regardless of price.

As the Journal explained, “coal-fired power plants have been retired en-masse without wind and solar farms ready to replace their output, pressuring utilities to pay up for gas. Infrastructure to export more gas is being built, but pipeline projects to move more gas within the country have been slowing.”

Between 2007 and 2021, 55% of the nation’s installed coal generating capacity was forced off the grid, largely replaced by natural gas generation. A new regulatory onslaught – what U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan calls a suite of rules – now threatens to push much of the remaining coal fleet into early retirement. That regulatory blitz not only jeopardizes the nation’s already precarious grid reliability but it’s going to further chain consumers to volatile gas prices.

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