The Bluefield Coal and Mining Show kicked off like it has so many times before with a keynote breakfast, followed by a ceremonial ribbon cutting. This year differed with fewer exhibitors, despite an improving market, and a pervasive resentment toward those who turned their backs on coal. Before introducing the keynote speaker, the emcee for the event, Bill Reid, summed up the current market situation, noting some of the manufacturers that no longer openly support coal. He explained that some of the major manufacturers now use terms like soft rock mining, to avoid saying that four-letter word (COAL).

The organizers asked West Virginia Coal Association (WVCA) President Chris Hamilton to cut the ribbon. Before he did that, however, he made clear where the West Virginia coal industry stands. He mentioned the current high prices for the coals produced from this region, but he cautioned people about becoming complacent. “As good as business is today, we’re still seeing an effort to transition away from this great industry,” Hamilton said. “It’s hydrogen today and nuclear tomorrow. There is renewable this and renewable that, but there’s nothing in the world that competes with coal-fired electric power generation.”

Working with the WVCA to effect policy, Hamilton said he sometimes feels like a center fielder in a javelin throwing contest, especially in Washington, D.C. today. “Don’t let anybody tell you that this Inflation Reduction Act is good for coal,” Hamilton said. 

“A single vote is all it took,” Hamilton said. “It underscores the importance of public policy to this industry, and it begs for everybody’s involvement in the legislative and political arenas. We must do more.”

The single vote to which he refers is U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), who eventually capitulated on the Inflation Reduction Act. “I’m not here to beat up on Joe,” Hamilton said. “He did yeoman’s work for 18 months, but when the day finally came …  it’s because of his agreement with [U.S. Senator] Chuck Schumer (D-NY) that [this bill] passed. It will cause the closure of half of our in-state power plants by 2030. [The Inflation Reduction Act] has $275 billion that’s been dedicated to fight coal, fight climate and raise your taxes. It will create and fund special interest activist groups that share the Biden Administration’s climate goals and it’s bad for the coal business.”

Even though the speech only lasted six or seven minutes, the passion was palpable as he described the opposition as climate crusaders, whose next target will be the ports. “They know Europe has a real thirst right now for West Virginia met coal and rest assured you will begin seeing protests in opposition,” Hamilton said. “We need to stay the course.” He encouraged people to become more involved and thanked them for their continued support.