By Steve Fiscor, Editor-in-Chief
Those who are familiar with the National Mining Association (NMA) know Harold “Hal” Quinn. He is highly regarded by his peers for his sharp skills as an attorney representing the mining business. Among his former co-workers, he is admired as being a fair, pragmatic decision maker. When the NMA announced that he had been appointed CEO on September 10, few were surprised. In fact, at MINExpo 2008, many mining executives felt he had earned it.
It’s safe to say that the NMA—the official voice of the American mining industry in Washington, D.C.—could face some of its most serious challenges in the very near future. Although the economy has temporarily displaced climate change on the docket, it still looms large and decisions in this area will certainly affect the coal business. The permitting process for mountaintop mining is becoming more complicated as the mining industry’s detractors hopscotch from one point to another. For mining companies operating on federal lands, a revision of the Mining Law of 1872 is another major concern. Internally, the current polarized stance between mine operators and regulators may only get worse unless somehow the industry finds a way to bridge the gap. And these are only the major policy issues we know today.
Quinn brings the wealth of nearly 30 years of experience to the position. He started his career working in various legal positions with the Department of Labor and the Department of the Interior before hooking up with the National Coal Association (NCA). He worked his way up to senior vice president at the NCA under Gen. Richard Lawson. Quinn held senior level position when the decision was made to merge the NCA and the American Mining Congress to form the NMA. When former NMA president and CEO Jack Gerard restructured and realigned the NMA, Quinn was promoted to executive vice president where he oversaw the legal-regulatory affairs group.
When Quinn talks about the NMA, he speaks with pride and enthusiasm, and a high level of confidence in the association’s staff, led by a senior management team including:
• Dan Gerkin, senior vice president-political affairs;
• Rich Nolan, senior vice president-government affairs;
• Moya Phelleps, senior vice president-membership services;
• Carol Raulston, senior vice president-communication team
• Roger Roberts, senior vice president-finance and administration;
• Katie Sweeney, senior vice president-general counsel; and
• Bruce Watzman, senior vice president-regulatory affairs;
Today, the NMA has a staff of about 40 or 50 professionals. Most of the people work in government affairs, legal and regulatory affairs, and communications, with the rest spread evenly among the remaining groups.
Similar to most associations, the NMA’s objectives are built around the business needs of its members. Quinn explained how the NMA is presently in the process of engaging its membership to identify and frame their business needs for the next four years. “We will align our public policy objectives around those needs,” said Quinn. “As we develop strategies to meet their business needs, we will identify opportunities to advance them and threats that might stand in the way.”
Advancing the Mining Agenda
With the changing political environment in Washington, one of the NMA’s top priorities is to educate new members of Congress and the Obama administration, so that they have a clear understanding of the fundamental role mining industry plays in serving America’s needs as they struggle to stimulate the economy. “The U.S. mining industry will play an important role in rebuilding the economy,” Quinn said. “The coal industry is the backbone of U.S. energy base. It provides low-cost energy and some of the highest paying jobs in many areas of the country. That translates into affordable power for everyone and low-cost electricity keeps the U.S. manufacturing sector competitive in the global market place.” Quinn and his crew at the NMA understand the importance and immediacy of several key issues that the new Congress may act on soon.
The mines produce many of the materials needed to support the economy. “We have a lot of shovel-ready jobs,” said Quinn. “We just need the public policy environment, in particular permitting, to make sure that we do not have bottlenecks that keep those jobs from becoming a reality.” The NMA is currently evaluating government policies regarding mineral exploration and development on public and private lands.
For any minerals company operating on federal lands, how the Mining Law of 1872 is changed is very important. Some have suggested imposing a royalty or production payment. “As far as amending the Mining Law of 1872, the NMA supports targeted amendments to that mining law that provide a fair return to the public for production from new mining claims on public lands. At the same time, we want a law that provides the type of security of tenure that mining companies need to make the large investments in those types mines,” Quinn said. “It’s important that the mining companies’ presence on those lands will be honored and will not be upset by changing policies or directions. It takes a tremendous amount of capital to build a successful mining enterprise and mining companies need that level of stability and security to attract the investment dollars to make those projects a reality.”
One of association’s top priorities has always been mine safety performance. “We have a very progressive approach to mine safety in terms of looking at what initiatives we can pursue as an industry within the umbrella of the NMA to promote higher performance,” Quinn said.
“Clearly, from a coal mining and processing perspective, energy and climate policy has both a tremendous opportunity and potential for concern, depending how the two are balanced with respect to coal’s current and future use,” Quinn said. “The NMA’s overall objective is to make sure that the U.S. has a public policy environment that encourages a healthy and vital domestic mining industry so that we can provide the energy and material needed for the public on a cost-effective basis.”
The NMA’s efforts on climate change should not be understated, nor should the threat that global warming and the ensuing debate pose to the industry. “As we all know, that’s an issue that’s not going away,” Quinn said. “Climate change represents a substantial portion of our resources to make sure that we are in this debate and positioning the industry as a responsible party to the solution.”
The Changing Regulatory Environment for Coal
Coal mining faces a suite of issues. Climate change is high on the list. But, so are mine safety and production. “The coal industry has some production issues caused by regulatory uncertainty,” Quinn said. “Mountain-top mining, for example, is front and center in Central Appalachia. We have been working together with state associations managing litigation regarding specific permits, permitting policy and general regulatory policy. It still confronts us as a real challenge. Our detractors keep moving the goalposts. As soon as we satisfy one concern or objective, they realign the playing field. It’s been tough to get the regulatory stability the industry needs to plan, finance, operate, and maintain these mines.”
No one, however, is more aware of regulatory changes than the underground coal mine operator as they learn to comply with the MINER Act, the comprehensive mine safety law Congress passed in 2006. “A lot of demands have been placed on underground coal mining in terms of a changing regulatory environment,” Quinn said. “Certainly, the MINER Act laid out a pathway to deal with some of the technological needs. It also adjusted for future practices and it put more punitive measures in place for non-compliance.”
The coal industry’s approach to improve safety performance, Quinn explained, is that compliance with the law is only the beginning. “Compliance does not completely satisfy expectations or objectives,” Quinn said. “The coal industry wants to build on its safety performance by identifying and getting out in front of the next challenges to reduce injury rates further.”
The MINER Act is relevant and important, but it is not the end of the matter, it’s the beginning. “We must develop the tools we need—technology, training, awareness, and risk analysis—to demonstrate our commitment to achieve zero fatalities,” Quinn said.
It has been a challenging time for the coal industry in terms of mine safety. “Here’s the good news,” Quinn said. “Regulatory issues notwithstanding, the industry has been well prepared for meeting the task. The mining industry has posted a continuing trend of improvement since 2000, which relates to a 36% decrease in the injury rates.”
Incidents and fatalities, Quinn explained, strengthen the industry’s resolve to keep moving forward aggressively to find new technologies to improve safety through training and awareness; to evaluate and deploy more risk analysis; and to look at new ways to pursue these occupations in the safest possible manner. “We have an overall commitment—from top management to the miners on every shift—that we reach our goal of zero fatalities,” said Quinn.
The NMA recently confirmed that 2008 was the safest year on record for the U.S. mining industry. “This happened during a year when the U.S. produced a record amount of coal,” Quinn said. “Even with the changing regulatory environment, our industry’s commitment and resolve has enabled us to achieve these two milestones.”
Outnumbered and Outgunned, NMA Forges Alliances
The number of groups that make up the environmental lobby and the amount of money they spend is staggering. “It’s not NMA that is being outspent, it’s the entire industry,” Quinn said. “That is why we have formed alliances with state associations as well as other national associations throughout the mining value chain.” While Quinn could not quantify the numbers of the mining industry’s detractors or the total impact of their ad campaigns, there is clearly a substantial amount of money being spent solely to thwart the vision and the opportunity the NMA would like to provide Americans in terms of low-cost energy and jobs.
At the same time, Quinn said that the NMA has a lot of assets too that can’t be quantified in dollars alone. For example, with the coal value chain, he explained, comes a lot of valuable people who are equally passionate about why coal should rightfully retain its place as the predominant energy source for America. “Those are the people who mine the coal; who provide the services (OEMs, consultants, etc.); the transporters (railroads, barges, etc.); the customers (utilities, steel mills, etc.), together with the communities where the mines operate. All of these people see beyond the jobs to the wider benefit to the larger community – from building ball fields and coaching the teams to volunteering for the fire department, etc.,” Quinn said. “The mining industry has a lot of allies. Despite all of the money being spent by their detractors, NMA members will learn to play smarter. The association will find new ways to promote its vision and develop and engage a large network. This network would be one where the NMA can speak about the virtues of coal—abundance, affordability, and reliability—and its improving performance from an environmental standpoint.”
Quinn would like to see the NMA remain on offense. “The NMA is always playing offense regarding its efforts to advocate and educate on behalf of mining,” Quinn said. As an example, he cites a new information source on the NMA web site [www.nma.org] for carbon capture and storage. “Carbon capture and storage is the next generation in clean coal technologies and the NMA placed this information on its website to provide the content needed by the general public and decision makers to educate themselves and make informed decisions about how coal will be used in the future,” Quinn said.
The NMA also recently released another initiative, “Stay Away, Stay Alive.” The goal is to enhance awareness and training for those working around continuous miners and mobile machines underground so that coal companies can minimize risks. “We have prepared ourselves to evaluate, test, and deploy technology that will take us to zero fatalities,” Quinn said. “It’s a great example for public policy makers to see how the industry is taking control of its own destiny.”
The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) announced that it had recently achieved a 100% inspection rate. The agency has also issues a record number of citations. Coal mine operators are also contesting a record number of these citations. “We commend MSHA for meeting the directive that the law sets out for them,” Quinn said. “What mining companies want is consistency on how laws are interpreted and applied, and some advance notice on what is expected.”
Industry statistics, as mentioned earlier, show a steady decline in incidents, which means safer operating conditions. “When we compare the data to the levels of enforcement and inspections, we do not see a direct correlation,” Quinn said. “We are not saying enforcement does not play a role in terms of results, but it could be over-emphasized as a principal driver.”
“To reach the milestones the industry reached last year and improve that high level of performance will take all of these tools,” Quinn said. “Sound laws and regulations are part of the equation. More important, however, is a constant vigilance in training and awareness. Identifying and deploying viable technology when it becomes available. That’s what the mining business means when it talks about a culture of safety.”
When MSHA removed the safety and health conference option, the agency essentially cut off a mine operator’s only informal opportunity to challenge an inspector’s decision. “The decision to take away the informal conference was symptomatic of a larger issue,” Quinn said. “What is the best approach to achieve the goals both are after? If the regulators are going to measure their success by the percentage of inspections they complete and the aggregate tally of penalties assessed, then we are not going to get there. If mining companies measure success by the number of citations challenged and over-turned, we are not going to get there either.”
“As much as it appears that a cooperative agreement between the regulators and the regulated might be unlikely in 2009, we are going to need to restore that trust to advance to the next level,” said Quinn. “We need a total commitment to safety. There are limited resources on both sides—mines and regulators [inspectors, conference officers, commissioners, etc.]. Both sides need to be smarter about how to deploy those resources. We need look at what is important and not just try to check boxes for the sake of checking boxes.”
Fighting the Good Fight
The NMA is governed by a chairman and a board of directors composed of mining company CEOs and mine owners. An Executive Committee and specialized standing committees evaluate and offer advice on issues and explain how they want the NMA to position association. The chairs for each of the standing committees are directors who are invited to serve by the NMA chairman. “The directors are elected by their peers,” Quinn said. “Obviously they need to be members in good standing and willing to engage and be a part of the public policy affecting the future of our industry. The expectations are high among their peers about safety and environmental performance.”
While the NMA is a very active association, Quinn explained that they could always use more help. “Not only would the NMA benefit from more members, the industry would be better served by a larger organization,” Quinn said. “There is a place here for everyone if they are involved with mining and interested in advancing the industry.”
“The NMA is the preeminent forum for our leaders to discuss what we want to achieve and how do we shape public policy. There is a big safety and technology share. Membership shares best practices and brings everybody up to speed. They can talk about their experiences, good and bad, and everybody can collaborate on a solution. We agree on an objective, a pathway, and then chances increase that we will be successful,” Quinn said. “NMA is where it’s happening, and a lot is going to be happening in the years ahead.”