VA Coal and Energy Alliance Conference: Industry leaders optimistic about coal rebound


KINGSPORT, Tenn. - The coal industry decline has cost thousands their jobs in our region. Now recent deregulation and technology advances could mean a turn-around for coal.

Coal industry leaders met in Kingsport on Monday for the annual 'Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance Conference'. The theme of the conference is launching a new era of coal, and many in the industry explained how using new technology to make coal cleaner is the way forward.

"We can coexist with one another, we can complement one another, we can help one another," said Jeff Taylor, Chairman of the Virginia Coal and Energy Alliance.

Since 2011, coal jobs have shrunk by more than 40%, and last year the United States produced the least amount of coal in the past thirty years.

"This time last year we were wondering which coal companies were going to file bankruptcy," said Taylor.

Now the industry is trying to rebound.

President Trump has recently deregulated a host of coal restrictions, like stream protection laws that were considered over-burdensome.

However, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is pushing back with his 'Cap and Trade Plan'. It aiming to tighten regulations on carbon emissions from power plants, he says coal isn't the way forward.

"I now have 80,000 clean energy jobs in Virginia today, 80,000 just in the last couple years," said McAuliffe. "There's nothing the governor or anyone can do about coal jobs if China's not buying our coal."

Coal leaders say while it's disappointing, there's a lot more legislature in their favor now than there had been in years. At the conference a main focus was increasing technology in the industry, they say it's key to the future of coal.

"We've see a resurgence in mining jobs now," said Kenneth Nemeth, Southern States Energy Board. "Coal plants that would have probably been closed are now continuing to be open."

Bob Weaver is the general manager at SunCoke Energy, they're helping lead the industry towards using technology to make coal production cleaner, like reusing coal by-products.

"We recover the heat and we actually make steam and then run turbines and make power from that," said Weaver.

The conference continues on Tuesday in Kingsport at Meadowview Conference Center.

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