Times are tough at the mines and they are also tough for their customers that burn coal. The EPA stripped Texas of its authority to issue air permits. In the last year or so, the EPA has issued four greenhouse gas rulemakings, and many states have resisted implementation. Last summer, 13 states requested more time and the EPA threatened them with a construction moratorium similar to what’s happening with permits on the coal mining side. All of the states backed down except Texas. The EPA abrogated the state’s power saying it had erred in originally approving the state’s implementation plan in 1992. The error escaped the agency’s attention for 18 years. In other words, according to the Wall St. Journal, Texas had failed to comply “with regulations that didn’t exist or wouldn’t be promulgated for another 18 years.” The lawyers are going to have a field day with this one too.

Duke Energy merged with Progress Energy (See News, p. 10) to form the nation’s largest electric utility. Readers might remember Duke Energy was a signatory to U.S. CAP, an organization that advocated a carbon tax before the EPA decided it could handle it themselves. Scandalous behavior has surfaced at the utility’s beleaguered Edwardsport IGCC plant in Indiana (See News, p. 12). For those that believe in carbon sequestration, the IGCC plant represents a potential breakthrough but cost overruns are tarnishing its image.

At the beginning of the year, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) issued a press release reminding everyone that mining fatalities had increased significantly during 2010. The agency took no responsibility, placed the blame on mine owners, and appeared to building a case for itself to step up enforcement even further. The announcement will stoke the “worst year ever” fires for those with a short term memory. A total of 48 coal miners perished on the job last year. The loss of one life is one life too many.

It’s no wonder that, when Coal Age polled its readership for the Annual Forecast, they expressed frustration about federal regulators. Compliance is difficult, but it’s impossible when the mines and the utilities don’t know the rules and the rules keep changing. It’s time for some real leadership to step forward and the new U.S. Congress might be the first step in the right direction.

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