Despite the impression created by the Sierra Club, markets for coal are strong and growing.  Quinn said coal’s dominant role in electricity generation will continue as U.S. electricity needs increase. “The country has recently added more than 11 GW of coal electricity in the U.S.,” he said, and also reminded policymakers that sitting on the world’s largest coal stockpile is an enviable place to be when “almost 400 GW of new coal generation is expected to come on line globally between now and 2015.”

Turning to present hostilities here in Washington, Quinn suggested the mining industry would much rather make peace than war.  He applauded the president’s regulatory reform initiative announced last month, fully understanding the business community’s widespread skepticism about the results.  He knows executive orders like this one are helpful in signaling intent but have no power to compel action, no enforcement mechanism in themselves. Quinn urged congressional leaders to continue plans to investigate what he termed the “staggering” costs and  necessity for new and proposed rules on coal mining and coal utilization.

“The president’s recent executive order on regulations is a very welcome sign that the administration now understands the $1.75 trillion burden regulations place on the economy is a huge impediment,” said Quinn.  “We’re looking for a balanced approach in federal regulations.” When asked about new rules from the EPA and OSM that have stifled permits for new mines in Central Appalachia, Quinn noted these polices “pose a real and present danger for mines and jobs across the country.”

In the televised interview, Quinn endorsed congressional action to  curb the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) authority to regulate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from large stationary sources. Pending bills range from delaying the rule for two years, an approach favored by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), to a more sweeping measure favored by Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) that would strike down the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Regardless of the specific approach, for Quinn the bottom line is clear: “We do support legislation that will leave the issue of how we address carbon to our elected representatives rather than to the EPA or other agencies.” The view that the EPA has overstepped by treading on ground best left to elected representatives who are better able to assess economic risks, is shared by Democrats as well as Republicans.  Quinn recalled Rep. John Dingell’s (D-Mich.) memorable warning that putting carbon regulation in the hands of the EPA would create “a glorious mess.”

Turning to the industry’s safety record, Quinn acknowledged last year’s results were a disappointing departure from the two previous years of successive record-setting mine safety performance. He noted, however, the industry has cut its fatal injury rate by two-thirds in the past 20 years and is eager to regain the initiative. “U.S. mining leaders are committed to re-establishing ourselves as global leaders in mine safety,” he said. To hasten this progress, NMA leaders are now benchmarking safety practices and procedures in other industries and evaluating their application to mining operations.

From the U.S. coal industry’s viewpoint, the glass is half full.  The world is clearly demanding more of what we produce, if only policymakers will let us produce it.

Popovich is a spokesperson for the National Mining Association, the industry’s trade group based in Washington, D.C.