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The Race for Coal


Mining Trade Group Confident About Congressional Support

January 28th 2013


A major mining trade association said Monday that it expects its congressional allies to push for legislation shortening mine permitting periods and to block attempts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

National Mining Association (NMA) CEO Hal Quinn pinned much of the industry’s recent struggles on “unsustainably low natural gas prices,” “unseasonably” warm weather and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules that amounted to “bad public policy.” But the trade group said it feels comfortable with its congressional support.

NMA officials said their Republican and Democratic friends would continue calling for reviews of EPA rules on air emissions. Quinn said House members would continue oversight of EPA rules rolled out under the Clean Air Act, which include emissions standards for new coal-fired power plants.

House Republicans, especially those on the Energy and Commerce Committee, spent considerable time railing against though EPA rules last Congress. And Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Power subcommittee, has pledged to continue looking at how such regulations affect electricity delivery.

While Quinn said he was excited about a fleet of smaller, more efficient power plants coming online, he worried about EPA rules permanently shuttering and stymieing upgrades at older plants. He said such policies would be detrimental to energy supply if natural gas prices rise, which he said was inevitable. “That really taps out the diversity in terms of your electricity portfolio,” Quinn said.

NMA also remained hopeful the House would reintroduce Rep. Mark Amodei’s (R-Nev.) National Strategic and Critical Mineral Production Act, which would cap mine permitting evaluations at 30 months. Katie Sweeney, senior vice president and general counsel with NMA, said mining applications typically take 10 years in the United States, compared with about two years in Canada.

Odds of the bill getting through the Senate — and a signature from President Obama — remain slim. Amodei’s bill passed the House last year 256-160 with heavy GOP support. But it didn’t get a Senate vote, and earned a rebuke — but not a veto threat — from Obama because the bill “would undermine and remove the environmental safeguards, for, at a minimum, almost all types of hardrock mines on federal lands.”

Bruce Watzman, senior vice president of regulatory affairs with NMA, also said he expects congressional supporters to beat back federal mine safety legislation. He said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) has indicated he would reintroduce his mine safety bill. Last year’s version called for expanding subpoena powers for the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, strengthening whistleblower protections for miners and increasing criminal penalties for flouting mine safety laws, among other provisions.

The bill is unlikely to move in the GOP-dominated House this Congress. NMA opposed the bill last year, and plans to do so this year, Watzman said. Watzman said the trade group already is gearing to meet ambitious reductions in injuries and fatalities. He said NMA is striving to reach zero fatalities and slash injuries by 50 percent at its member organizations within five years.

“This is a journey. We’re going to have our ups and downs. … This will take time, but we think this will drive the continuous improvement we want to see,” Watzman said. NMA officials also maintained a positive outlook for the mining industry beyond Capitol Hill.

Quinn said a rebound in the U.S. housing and auto markets would fuel domestic demand for minerals. He also said exports — driven by developing countries, namely China and India — would remain strong, though likely falling short of last year’s 123 million tons shipped abroad. Quinn added NMA anticipates adding 17 gigawatts of coal-fired electricity from smaller, more efficient power plants between 2009 and 2014.

Zack Colman writes for The Hill, from where this article is adapted.

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