For all of the political uncertainties we face, there are some comfortable certainties for coal. We know for certain that when the economy recovers, so too will the demand for energy and the coal we produce.

The question is not whether the nation will want the coal we produce. The question is whether policymakers will allow us to produce it, or will a punitive regulatory climate stifle innovation, productivity and competitiveness in our industry?

From regulation of greenhouse gases to mine safety rules, coal mining will be the subject, if not the target, of new regulations. Now that prospects for divided government and legislative gridlock seem even stronger, it isn’t Congress but the regulators who are likely to pose the greatest challenge for coal mining and the communities it supports.

Consider the major initiatives now pending in Washington’s regulatory agencies.

Congress failed to pass cap-and-trade, so the spotlight now falls on the EPA, which is proceeding under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants and other businesses. Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) has called that prospect a “glorious mess.” The NMA with other business groups has challenged these actions in federal court.

Climate change regulations may get all of the headlines, but new revised standards for other emissions will pose a more immediate threat to many coal-based power plants at risk of becoming uneconomic under these standards.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress are preparing to once again change the federal mine safety laws. The result is likely to be more powers granted to MSHA—and more challenges for operators.

The NMA believes our goal of zero injuries is more likely to be reached by building a culture of safety innovation—for better technology and training—than a culture of regulation with its emphasis on punitive measures.

Additionally, the EPA’s new policy for reviewing mining permits poses a serious threat to coal mining in six Appalachian states. In effect, a moratorium on new mining has resulted from arbitrary guidelines the EPA has imposed on scores of pending permits. The EPA Administrator frankly acknowledges “no, or very few” permits will be approved under these guidelines.

The NMA believes there is no scientific or statutory basis for the new standards the EPA is now foisting on states, nor is the EPA justified in usurping authorities Congress has reserved for the states in reviewing permits. For these reasons, NMA has asked a federal court to set aside the EPA’s new process and standards.

Finally, the EPA expects to finalize rules that may regulate large portions of coal ash as a hazardous substance. This poses a potential threat to the multi-billion-dollar beneficial reuse industry. Last year, the U.S. generated 131 million tons of coal ash and reused 43% of it.

What is the cumulative impact of these varied rules on coal communities? The regulators are not keeping count.

They’re only responsible for analyzing the economic impact of the individual rules under their jurisdiction—not their cumulative impact.

So even when their cost analysis is done conscientiously, it’s of limited use. What the real world wants to know is: what is the economic burden on sectors of the economy that are subject to multiple rulemakings?

Looked at separately, as each agency does, the regulatory cost of each rule may seem reasonable—some may actually be reasonable. But the coal community doesn’t bear these costs separately—it bears them cumulatively. This explains why costs that may appear reasonable to OSM, EPA, MSHA and the Army Corps of Engineers are nevertheless intolerable to a company subjected to them all.

In coming months, the NMA will remind our elected representatives of the real costs of regulations—so they can remind the un-elected of the consequences of ignoring them.

Quinn is the president and CEO of the NMA.