Congratulations folks—well done! Sadly though, Coal Age is probably the only media outlet that will publish this information. This news is just not sensational enough for the mainstream press and it would only be overshadowed by the sludge spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston plant. This month, Coal in the News kicks off with an in-depth report about what’s being done to remediate the site and Luke Popovich touches on it briefly in his column. Unfortunately, the handwritten sign reading “Clean Coal?” in front of the sludge spill that appeared on CNN during the holidays did more damage than the tens of millions of dollars being spent by environmental activists.

Coal Age begins each year with an Annual Forecast. A select group of the readers is surveyed about their instincts and spending habits for the up-coming year. For the past few years, the report has been upbeat, along with the economy. The ensuing global financial crisis, however, clouds this year’s outlook with uncertainty. Less than one-fifth of the mine operators surveyed see production decreasing, yet nearly two-third view the future with pessimism. Spot prices remain high. In most case they have more money to spend on equipment than they did last year, but they are worried. As one of the respondents, who will remain anonymous, said, “The single most important factor facing the coal industry is the economy and how quickly it can recover will be a major issue. The policies of the new administration will be a driving factor as far as economic growth.” One should never underestimate the intelligence of the Coal Age reader.

Also, in this edition, Lee Buchsbaum pays tribute to the American railroads and their ability to quietly haul record levels of coal to the utilities. The railroads, which have always been viewed by the mining industry as a necessary evil, also face uncertainty. Despite their improved performance, many customers are calling for rail re-regulation. This is one more item that the Obama administration will have to tackle.

In the Legally Speaking column, attorneys from Patton Boggs guide readers through the maze of potential enforcement pitfalls. They discuss MSHA and also touch on possible new leadership at the agency. This Obama appointment will be a critical choice for the coal industry.

In each of the stories referenced, readers can find positive notes amidst the uncertainty. That lack of confidence stems from a huge amount of responsibility facing the new president. For now, we have to give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt. It may sound smug, but the coal industry enjoys the luxury of strong domestic demand. The coal business in general is somewhat insulated from the huge swings of the economy. In 2009, the U.S. coal industry will fare much better than a lot of other industries.

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