Looking at Ohio’s coal industry

Published 9:32 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

During the recent Wellston Coal Festival, approximately 60 people attended a discussion on Ohio coal and its importance to the economy.

Coal produces the vast majority of electricity for Ohio, and it is also an essential source for many other states and countries.

Notably, Mike Carey, from the Ohio Coal Association, spoke about how President Obama delayed for one year what could be a crippling EPA regulation regarding ozone. He testified that it is crucial that this regulation be permanently shelved because it would be a major blow to the economy.

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Besides myself, Representatives Hall, Gentile, Phillips and Senator Daniels listened to the testimony. Shannon Weber, a young Jackson County attorney, stressed that the legislature should partner with other stakeholders to market the significance of the history, as well as the future, of Ohio coal.

Furthering the discussion, Phil Bowman, from Waterloo Coal, also issued concerns about the future of the coal industry and the regulatory attacks that seem to persist.

He asserted that Ohio and its surrounding regions contain rich reserves of coal, and it would be damaging to not only the coal industry, but to all consumers, if we were forced to use more expensive energy options exclusively.

Bowman explained that the legislative mandates to use more renewable energy are costly and lack the capacity to meet the electricity demand, which is projected to continue increasing at a dramatic rate.

Moreover, Chris Walton, from Sands Hill Coal, pointed out the wealth of attractive employment opportunities in the coal industry available to young people, underscoring this to the roughly 20 high school students present.

He cited statistics that the payroll for direct coal jobs in Congressman Gibbs’ Congressional district is more than $137 million.

Walton also mentioned the recent shortage of certain skill sets, such as mechanical training, as a growing concern for the industry and for potential workers.

Significantly, Drew Bond, of Batelle, indicated that the discussion was timely, as Governor Kasich is co-hosting a summit on energy issues this month in Columbus.

Pointing out untapped markets, Ellison Hong, from the U.S.-China Economic Alliance, explained the potential for China to buy Ohio coal.

He said that China is 300 million metric tons short of the coal it needs, which is equivalent to about one ton of coal for each person living in the United States.

In addition, Dave Zatazelo, of Rhino Energy, cited that access to rail and river transportation is key to the success of expanding markets.

During the legislative discussions, Rep. Gentile maintained that there has to be a middle ground to allow for the use of coal in an environmentally responsible manner.

Senator Daniels and others pointed out that, while coal is not the most exciting of energy options, it is a plentiful and efficient source that needs to be utilized.

I think most Ohioans would agree that, for our economy to move forward, we must have access to affordable energy. We cannot allow political correctness to jeopardize the nation’s economy and further harm coal-producing states.

Solar, wind, hydropower, natural gas and nuclear sources are also part of the equation, but cannot replace coal because of the ever-growing demand for electricity.

All in all, I learned a great deal from the discussion.

Most importantly, the legislative panel heard several innovative ideas to consider as Ohio looks toward the future of energy.

John Carey serves in Ohio’s 87th District of the House of Representatives, which includes eastern Lawrence County. He can be reached at (614) 466-1366, by writing to: Ohio House of Representatives, 77 S. High St., Columbus, OH 43215, or via e-mail at District87@ohr.state.oh.us.