They said it wasnâ€™t a war on coal, and
They said it wasnâ€™t the anti-coal policies.
They said itâ€™s just the market. Natural gas prices are just too cheap.
But, with a new President and a new attitude towards the coal industry, coal is starting to see signs of revival.
Norfolk Southern reported that coal earnings increased 20% in the first quarter of this year, driven by significant volume increases in the export and utility markets.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration tracks the Henry Hub natural gas spot price (dollars per million btu), which varies greatly. But for comparison, in the first three months of 2015, the year Southwest Virginia saw so many layoffs, the average monthly cost was 2.99 in January, 2.87 in February, and 2.83 in March. In 2017, the same three months were 3.30, 2.85, and 2.88.
It does not appear there is a significant pricing trend of rising costs in the natural gas industry. Yet Norfolk Southern coal earnings saw a 20% tick up.
Could it be, as Iâ€™ve said before, the death of coal was greatly exaggerated?
This new administration has given the industry new hope and I look forward to seeing some coal and coal mining related jobs return to Southwest Virginia.
At the time of the writing of this column, I have not yet read all 1665 pages of the â€śomnibusâ€ť bill that will fund the federal government through September (the remainder of fiscal year 2017.)
The bill will complete the funding process for 2017, which began with the presentation of President Obamaâ€™s budget proposal last spring. It allocates spending as high as the 2017 cap agreed to under the last President, and I hope the 2018 budget, under President Trump, will reflect a decrease in spending.
For this funding bill, I will weigh the positives versus the negatives, review constituent input, and decide how to vote.
I have already identified some positive and some negative aspects.
Of particular importance for economic growth in our region, language and money I fought hard for are included as part of the POWER Plus pilot program. The language and money are based on an amendment I offered last year. The POWER Plus program sets aside money for the reclamation of abandoned mine lands in conjunction with community and economic development. I pushed for $10 million in grant funding to come to Virginia, and it is in this bill.
The only locations that qualify to receive this funding are abandoned coal mines. In Virginia, those only exist in Virginiaâ€™s Ninth Congressional District.
The funding bill also funds the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the Community Development Block Grant. The ARC funding includes provisions to fund high-speed broadband to distressed counties and fund industrial sites and workforce development.
I have also fought to bring parity between funding of clean coal and other fossil fuel research and funding of development of renewable energy. While the amounts are still not equal, fossil energy research takes a baby step forward in this spending bill.
To my disappointment, the bill does not prohibit funding directed to the Green Climate Fund.
Nor does the bill penalize funding to cities that disregard the law and even actively obstruct federal agents in the performance of their duties.
The bill increases funding for border security, but it does not begin funding a â€śwallâ€ť along our southern border.
It also does not include language prohibiting funding for the EPAâ€™s overreaching attempt to regulate truck trailers as part of greenhouse gas emissions regulations. As you may recall, we have nearly 2,000 jobs in Southwest Virginia related to this industry, and the law is clear that EPA does not have authority to regulate track trailers. I have spoken to EPA Administrator Pruitt on this point and I am hopeful that he will take action to address this concern.
Additionally, while the bill does fund health benefits for orphaned UMWA retirees, it does not take care of orphaned non-union coal miners.
I will continue to review the funding bill, but as always I would appreciate your input. This bill may be voted on soon, so email me your thoughts today.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov.