Coal Tattoo

There it is this morning, right at the top of the front page of the Daily Mail:

Coal industry, state may see decline.

George Hohmann wrote the story:

The coal industry has been a major force in keeping West Virginia out of a recession but the industry’s – and state’s – fortunes may be about to change.

George noted the recent national business media reports:

“‘Collapse’ isn’t a word to be bandied about in mining circles,” The Wall Street Journal observed last week. “But how else to describe the recent precipitous drop in stocks of U.S. coal producers?”

The Journal noted that companies reporting production problems have had their stocks hammered after they disclose bad news.

From a larger perspective, the newspaper noted that the industry has become increasingly focused on producing coking coal. The Journal reported that global financial services firm Morgan Stanley has determined that while coking coal is less than 10 percent of total U.S. coal output, it accounts for about half of the sector’s earnings.

“Japan, China, India and Europe import nearly three quarters of the world’s seaborne coking coal,” The Journal said, referring to coal shipped on ocean barges. “Everything from natural disasters to monetary tightening have cut or could cut steel demand in those regions. Meanwhile, half the world’s exports of coking coal comes from Australia, where output is now recovering after last year’s floods.”

The story went on:

West Virginia’s coal industry faces some unique problems. One is the fact that after 100 years of mining, the easily reached seams of coal have been mined. The state is, as The Journal put it, “a veritable Swiss cheese of old shafts.”

Ah yes, but then:

Another is the industry’s ongoing battles with the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

And George let Bill Raney go on:

“The challenges are clearly there, such as the accessibility to the seams. And we’ve risen to those challenges. When you look at production, I think you’ll see we’re on the upswing compared to last year, up 2 or 3 percent,” said Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association. “I continue to contend we have the best coal miners and coal mine managers in the world and they know how to address those challenges.

“It’s remarkable to me there’s demand for our coal all over the world and yet the federal government seems to be doing everything they can to diminish the use of coal in this country, even though America has more coal than any other country in the world,” he said.

Coal industry officials continue to try to frame this story as one where the evil Obama administration is the root of any problems the industry has, despite the clear evidence that market forecasters are saying the huge declines coming to Central Appalachian coal production are not driven by any EPA initiatives.

Coalfield media folks aren’t necessarily cutting through this quite clearly enough yet — and they aren’t challenging public officials for a plan for how to deal with the impending problems. But looking at today’s Daily Mail — and last week’s State Journal editorial — it’s clear people are starting to catch on.

Next thing you know, Hoppy Kercheval will jump on the bandwagon …