FARMINGTON — Growing federal regulations and the booming natural gas industry are creating challenges for the coal industry, a national coal advocate said Wednesday.
Proposed regulations on coal burning power plants would result in higher electric bills for residents and businesses and the natural gas industry spends four or five times more than the coal industry on promotional and advertising campaigns, said Steve Miller, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
Miller discussed the future of the coal industry as one of the keynote speakers at the first annual National Coal Conference at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort.
Addressing a small group of industry representatives, Miller said the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules aimed at reducing emissions would result in electricity rate increases, but the regulations are not necessary because existing technology has cut emissions of many pollutants by 90 percent over the past several years.
“We can continue to improve environmental protection and continue to get environmental and economic benefits,” Miller said in his presentation on the second day of the two-day conference.
He said his outlook on the future of the coal industry is mixed.
“I’m pessimistic about tomorrow. I’m optimistic about the day after tomorrow,” Miller said.
Nuclear and renewable energy will not develop into major sources of power for the country, but there is a “dash for gas,” he said.
The dash for gas is fueled by low prices of about $2 per unit, but coal will regain favor as the preferred fuel for power plant when gas prices increase to $4 or $5 per unit, he said.
The government should allow producers of all energy sources to compete for business, he said.
“We do not need to dial out any of our nation’s fuel choices,” Miller said.
Gas is enjoying its place in the spotlight, and Miller likened the push for increased gas usage to “chasing the stock of the month.”
Ironically, the resort hosted the Tri-County Oil and Gas Expo, which focused on the Marcellus shale natural gas industry and featured Gov. Tom Corbett as a keynote speaker last fall and there are Marcellus wells on resort property.
Miller said the gas industry is aggressively marketing itself in public relations and advertising campaigns and is spending four or five times as much as the coal industry does on those efforts.
The coal industry is trying to throw a counter punch by airing TV ads featuring coal mines, power plants and railroads during coverage of the presidential election. Miller said the ads will point out the high cost of home energy bills, pollution reductions through clean coal technology, coal’s benefits to the national economy and the low cost of coal.
People from across the country have been hired to travel to presidential campaign rallies and hold up “Clean Coal = Jobs” signs and wear hats bearing that slogan, Miller said as he displayed a photo of someone holding one of those signs at a Mitt Romney rally. Some of those people haven’t have not been allowed in some rallies and have been forced to stand outside with protesters, he said.
Coal politics is a complicated matter, Miller said.
Legislation favoring the coal industry would be more likely to pass if Republicans retain majority control of the House and win control of the Senate in the upcoming election, but not all Republican legislators “completely” support coal, he said.