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The Joint Standing Committee on Energy and Manufacturing heard an update on the state’s coal industry Monday.
Chris Hamilton, president of West Virginia Coal Association started out by thanking legislators for their “pro-coal policies and assistance” aimed at helping the industry over the years.
“Most of the bad is coming out of Washington, D.C. Mostly good comes out of West Virginia and the West Virginia Legislature,” Hamilton said. “And that’s been sustained over the past several years, we’re just expressing our appreciation, sincerely, this is our safe haven.”
In 2021 West Virginia was the nation’s second-largest coal producer in the U.S., after Wyoming, accounting for about 14 percent of U.S. coal production. Hamilton said the industry will end 2023 with about 86 million tonnes of coal production.
“We’re up about 5 percent from last year,” he said. “Last year we produced about 84 million tonnes of production, that fits a pretty healthy split.”
The U.S. total for 2022 came in at just under 600 million tons, a 3 percent increase from 2021.
Asked about fossil fuels and climate change, Hamilton shifted the focus to countries like China and India which he said produce more fossil fuel emissions.
“Ironically, as you compare that and talk about global climate change, their contribution is six, seven times greater than what ours is currently within the states,” Hamilton said. “So we point that out – because we don’t think it does good to ratchet down our use of fossil fuel and coal consumption, specifically while it’s being ramped up in other parts of the globe. We’re all one planet here and if one country is ramping up their carbon output as one is ramping down you still have an increase in carbon dioxide.”
According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, in 2022 China and India combined consumed 67 percent of total global coal production — China 52 percent and India 15 percent. Conversely, China is the world’s largest producer of renewable energy, including the largest producer of hydroelectricity, solar power and wind power in the world.
Hamilton continued to criticize the Biden administration for “stringent” EPA rules aimed at reducing emissions and particulates in coal fired plants.
“They don’t make any bones about it. They are also designed to remove every single remaining coal plant in operation. That’s the objective of these rules. That’s the objective of this president,” Hamilton said.
Since taking office, President Biden has pledged to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 to address climate change which scientists say is producing long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns.
The coal industry has been faced more recently with increased restrictions on insurance coverage, particularly for new projects. The move is seen as a response to pressure from shareholders, governments and environmental groups seeking to limit coal’s contribution to global warming.
It follows similar action by banks to restrict their coal financing activities. In 2022 JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs were placed on the state’s restricted financial institutions list after Treasurer Riley Moore alleged they are engaged in a boycott of fossil fuels.
“The insurance industry seems to be playing many of those same games right now,” Hamilton said. He told the committee that the West Virginia Coal Association just had its corporate insurance policy revoked.
“The renewal letter stated that Chubb insurance, because we have the word coal in our corporate bank they will no longer provide us with insurance,” he said.
Jason Wandling serves as general counsel for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Mining and Reclamation.
Wandling reviewed 2022 permitting activity offering data representing applications that the agency has received and actions taken from Jan 1, 2022 to Dec. 31, 2022.
“As you can see the numbers are more or less the same. What we have coming in is what we have going out,” he said. “The most important is the incidental boundary revisions (IBRs), the permit revisions themselves and the permit renewals. This is sort of the lifeblood of what coal companies need when they come to the agency to be able to do their work in compliance with the law.”
Wandling said from 2016 until this year they have 85,000 more acres in production than in 2011. He said surface acres permitted in 2022 remained more or less the same as figures released that year.
In 2023 alone, he said an estimated $18 million in coal bond releases are expected to be returned to operators.
Statewide surface mine application data was split up over four years.
“Just about 30 certified applications were submitted to us,” Wandling said. “Since then those numbers have dwindled a little bit both because of the pandemic, because of the change in administrations and regulatory environment emanating from Washington, but it’s still a significant number.”
Executive Director of the Gas and Oil Association of West Virginia Charlie Burd told lawmakers that 73,000 people are currently working in the state’s natural gas and oil industry. He cited 2021 figures, which showed West Virginia as the nation’s fourth-largest natural gas producer, after Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana, accounting for about 10 percent of U.S. natural gas production. Tyler County is currently the largest natural gas producing county in West Virginia followed by Marshall and Wetzel counties.
“That’s a lot of folks that rely on fossil fuels as an industry and there’s 1.8 million people that rely on the products that we give them every day,” Burd said. “We give them the ability to pull a switch and have lighting and heating and cooling. I think the National Geographic identified maybe 6,000 products that we use everyday that are the direct result of natural gas and the associated liquids that we produce.”
Burd cited the MarkWest Sherwood Complex reminding lawmakers the largest natural gas processing facility in the U.S is located in Doddridge County, West Virginia.
“That’s millions, hundreds of millions of dollars invested,” he said. “A wealth of dollars when you look at all the investments that we make and you’ve been the catalyst to help us do that.”