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As steel demand rises, Virginia coal mining is on the upswing

Operators attribute increased activity to metallurgical coal
A CSX train carrying a load of coal stops near the James River in Richmond in July 2019.
A CSX train carrying a load of coal stops near the James River in Richmond in July 2019.(Sarah Vogelsong/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Nov. 12, 2021 at 8:54 AM EST
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Virginia is seeing an uptick in coal mining as demand for steel surges amid global economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and federal plans for sweeping infrastructure investment.

Since Aug. 10, the Virginia Department of Energy has received applications for 10 new licenses to sell coal and one request to reactivate an existing license. Seven new permits to mine coal are also under review, with 11 additional permits in the process of being transferred to new owners.

Among the mines that have been restarted is the JMAC surface mine near Appalachia, now owned by Next Endeavor Ventures; JW Construction’s Hickory Gap Surface Mine; and the Osaka underground mine owned by INMET Mining.

“Long story short, we are seeing more coal mining and planned coal mining based on the records in our office,” wrote department spokesperson Tarah Kesterson in an email.

Virtually all of the coal linked to the new licenses and permits is metallurgical coal, used for steelmaking rather than power production, Kesterson confirmed.

With power companies moving away from coal as a fuel due to both its costs and laws like the Virginia Clean Economy Act designed to transition the electric grid away from fossil fuels, metallurgical coal has assumed an increasingly important role in Virginia’s coal industry.

“We believe that the future of our industry is with metallurgical coal,” said Ben Beakes, president of the Metallurgical Coal Producers Association, a Grundy, Va.-based industry group formerly known as the Virginia Coal & Energy Alliance. The group, which was founded by five major coal companies in the Appalachian basin, produced 43 percent of U.S. metallurgical coal in 2020.

Among the factors contributing to the uptick in Virginia coal activity, Beakes pointed to the rising global demand for steel, a trade dispute between Australia and China that has led to greater U.S. export opportunities in the latter, and the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure bill.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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