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Gifts for the Energy Business

Last month, I had the great pleasure of being in West Virginia again. The purpose of the trip was to cover the opening of Alpha Natural Resources’ Running Right Leadership Academy, which is the cover story this month (See Alpha Academy, p. 24). On several occasions, we have approached Kevin Crutchfield, CEO and chairman for Alpha,  to discuss the integration of the Massey Energy operations. Each time, he politely declined. He and his 11,700-member team have been busy as one could only image.

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The Changing Face of the Coal Business

They say perception is everything. Situations are perceived and a mental image is conjured on years of experience. As an example, if one were to pull a vendor aside at a mining trade show or seminar and ask, “How’s business,” the reply would probably be pessimistic. Depending on the amount of time that vendor has pursued the coal business and the quality of their equipment and services, the answer would vary from it’s awful (e.g., I have only been in the business for five years or less) to it’s never going to be as great as it once was (e.g., I have been doing this for way too long).

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The Blow was Severe, but the Bleeding may have Stopped

Seeing the coal industry lose market share to new found, inexpensive natural gas last year was tough. Bracing for another four years of over regulation by the federal government was one thing, but to see long-time customers switch fuels crushed what little enthusiasm remained. Then, when coal and gas consumption reached parity in late April, reality hit home. During that period of market uncertainty leaders emerged with words of encouragement. Executives at the National Mining Association (NMA) cautioned utilities against putting too many eggs in one basket. Executives from Peabody Energy and Alliance Resources projected a return to coal and it looks like those forecasts are starting to materialize.

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President Obama Appoints New Leaders

Leadership for three federal posts that hold considerable sway over the U.S. coal industry have either taken office or will likely do so soon. Sally Jewell took office as the new secretary for the interior, replacing Ken Salazar. President Obama also chose Gina McCarthy to succeed the coal industry’s beloved Lisa Jackson to run the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ernest Moniz, an MIT physicist, glided through a Senate confirmation hearing, according to the National Mining Association, all but assuring his confirmation as secretary of energy, succeeding Steven Chu. Who are these people and what does it mean for the coal business?

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Unsustainable Legacy Costs

Retirees from Patriot Coal Co., who are represented by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), are rallying against coal companies in St. Louis. Who couldn’t see this one coming five or six years ago when Peabody Energy decided to spin off Patriot Coal? A bankruptcy judge in St. Louis is now faced with making a very complex decision that could have widespread ramifications, not only for the UMWA, but for organized labor.

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