Mining Industry Says 'Clean Coal' is Top Priority

Hoping to capitalize on growing interest in Washington for a new national energy policy, the leaders of the National Mining Association (NMA) will make increased Congressional support for clean coal technology their top legislative priority this year.

"Our goal and strategy is to pursue a 'zero-emissions' facility policy," said Jack Gerard, president of the NMA, at a Jan. 13 press briefing in Washington, DC. He pointed out that at a time when the availability and reliability of petroleum resources are in question, the U.S. has a 250-year supply of coal.

"Coal should be the cornerstone of U.S. energy policy," Gerard asserted.

Development of a national mineral policy is a second priority identified by Gerard, who said there has been a seven-fold increase in the value of minerals imported into the U.S. since 1993.

On the regulatory front, Harold Quinn, NMA's general counsel, said the association is still reviewing the Mine Safety and Health Administration's (MSHA) regulatory agenda, which was released in December.

In that agenda, MSHA stated that while respirable coal dust levels have been cut significantly over the years, some miners continue to develop coal workers' pneumoconiosis. To address this issue, MSHA intends to reopen the record for rulemaking on the "Determination of Concentration of Respirable Coal Mine Dust" and re-propose "Verification of Underground Coal Mine Operators' Dust Control Plans." The former rule would permit MSHA to determine the level of mine dust on the basis of a single sample; the latter rule would help assure that operators' dust control plans are effective.

According to recently released MSHA data, there was a record-low 67 fatal injuries in the U.S. mining industry last year, while the days lost incidence rate for non-fatal injuries also continued to decline.

"Reforming" or changing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) is another issue NMA is exploring. "Industry has paid $6 billion into the fund," complained Quinn, "but only $1.7 billion has been spent on high priority projects that threaten the health, safety and environment of the surrounding communities."

Congress has already appropriated $2 billion over 10 years to support "clean coal" technology. Gerard said this is "seed money" used to support the development of the technology.

In addition to this, NMA is asking for more tax incentives to encourage utilities to deploy these new clean coal technologies. Last year the House approved $3.3 billion in such incentives, later reduced by the Senate to $1.9 billion.

"Our challenge is these first-time prototypes of new technologies are very expensive," said Gerard. "So what we're trying to do is provide the incentives necessary to get the private sector to take that risk and deploy the technology."

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