Stricter air quality regulations continue to put pressure on a beleaguered coal industry. Fortunately for B&N Coal of Ohio, the company’s source of coal works well with generating plant that they supply. “We provide the coal with a Btu-content, along with the price that allows the generating plant to comply with the limits on the air emissions at a competitive price to the consumer,” Vice President Roger Osborne says.
Supplying generating plants in the United States is how B&N Coal has prospered beyond its 50-plus years thus far. The company has been doing extensive before, during and after mining water sampling of both groundwater and surface water. It has expanded the chemical testing of those samples to include many different parameters, such as, heavy metals, sulfates and total dissolved solids. It also is doing extensive biological testing of the streams and wetlands in all areas, including the previously mined and reclaimed areas before, during and after mining. B&N Coal does the majority of its mining by remining the areas that were partially mined and left unreclaimed many years ago. By removing a greater amount of unmined area with higher cover beyond that previously mined, it can mine more coal while, at the same time, generate enough material – due to the expansion of the material when blasted – to allow for the areas to be reclaimed to today’s standards and to the approximate original contour, while cleaning up the toxic water and reconnecting the streams that were mined out when previously mined.
If the coal-fired plants continue to be closed down the coal is not mined, and the environmental improvement that has been made through the remining of the previously mined and unreclaimed areas will never be reclaimed. Even the areas that are reclaimed using the Abandoned Mine Reclamation Funds will eventually cease, since coal has to be mined so the taxes that are paid by the mining companies for every ton mined will continue to finance the reclamation of those areas.
Osborne laments that industry uncertainty about regulations has been a problem throughout the Obama years. “A lot of plants in the United States are being shut down by the U.S. EPA because of expenses and the impossible new and potential regulations. The market is not out there, as it once was,” Osborne says. “A lot of companies have turned to overseas markets.”
B&N Coal has been fortunate thus far, according to Osborne, because the company supplies “clean coal” for the remaining coal-fired electric plants still in operation here in the United States. “We are fortunate at this point to be supplying a newer coal-fired electric generation plant,” Osborne says.
However, with the Obama administration continuing to focus on clean air standards that Osborne says are unachievable and unwarranted, he isn’t sure how long that good fortune will continue. “That is something that is very uncertain in this administration if they find other reasons to shut down the burning of coal,” he says. “The utility companies cannot deal with the constant change in the requirements. When it affects them, it affects mining.”
It is difficult to assess the future as the coal industry awaits the next round of regulations. B&N Coal has adjusted to the ever-changing environmental regulations, but Osborne is not sure how, and if, the coal industry can survive the uncertainty and the complexity of the changing regulations. All Osborne asks, he says, is for reasonable reform.
The newer utility plants have complied with the standards up to this point. “It takes 15 to 20 years to acquire all of the permits to build a plant today it probably won’t comply with then changing regulations by the time it is built,” Osborne says. “The public is going to ultimately pay the price for all of the regulations through greatly increased electric bills and interrupted supply. They also will pay for the increased electric bills for all of the businesses and their products through anything they buy.”