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The View from Rock Bottom


The term “rock bottom” is often used to describe a great loss, such as financial ruin. Its derivation can be traced back to coal mining in the late 1800s as a description of the harder bedrock formation lying below the coal bed, and using it to describe the current state of the coal business would be relevant. The irony would be humorous if it were not so tragic, especially when one considers the tens of thousands of coal miners who have lost their jobs. As difficult as it will be to manage through the bottom of this cycle, better times lie ahead.

As this edition goes to press, former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship reported to a privately run minimum-security prison camp in Taft, California, according to U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials. A federal appeals court denied his bid to stay free while he sought to overturn his conspiracy conviction. He will serve one year at the prison, dubbed Club Fed by the mainstream press, and pay a $250,000 fine.

While campaigning in West Virginia earlier in the month, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton immediately met opposition from coal miners and their families. She tried to walk back her statements about putting coal miners out of business (see Dateline Washington, p. 10), but the crowds were having none of it. When the Clinton campaign staff asked to use the city of Logan Fire Department facilities, Logan officials wrote to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) expressing their dismay and said they did not want the Clintons within Logan city limits. A portion of the letter read, “The policies that have been championed by people like Mrs. Clinton have all but devastated our fair town, and honestly, enough is enough. We wish them the best in their campaign, however, we again state they are not welcome on our city properties. We hope that you will respectfully consider NOT visiting our community.” Clinton lost the West Virginia primary to her rival Bernie Sanders.

Even though an energy bill finally passed the U.S. Senate (S. 2012) last month, which included provisions to reduce mine permitting delays, federal agencies continue to overregulate and obfuscate with proposed rulemakings. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is getting in on the action (see News, p. 16). Meanwhile, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced it is temporarily delaying its respirable coal mine dust sampling because of a newly discovered interference issue with proximity detections systems (see Legally Speaking, p. 48). The coal business is getting no relief from Washington.

Thumbing through this edition, readers will notice a slight change from previous months. A little less than half of the stories this month could be viewed as positive in nature. As an example, the cover story is North American Coal’s Coyote Creek mine in North Dakota. It started production earlier this year and it plans to mine coal for the next 25 years. Other news items document how midsize coal operators are seeing opportunities on the horizon. Some of those advantages could come in the form of assets sales as more of the large coal companies are forced to liquidate. Others are moving forward with projects, which were based on sound economic principles. While it may be way too early to discuss a recovery at this point, a few positive signs are beginning to surface.

Steve Fiscor, Coal Age Editor-in-Chief
sfiscor@mining-media.com