By George Hohmann

The Charleston Daily Mail Business Editor

ROANOKE - The senior vice president of the West Virginia Coal Association said that if energy independence and national security are at the apex of the nation's energy agenda, "we think positive things will follow.

"But when you start with items such as cap-and-trade legislation, expanding the energy portfolio to unrealistic quantities and focusing on climate change, all that follows will be negative and restrictive for coal and your basic industries."

Chris Hamilton, a featured speaker at the Governor's 2009 Energy Summit earlier this week, said the coal industry faces "a moment of opportunity."

"We have a lot of challenges," he said. "We've always had a lot of challenges, although today's challenges may be more threatening than in the past. We think we have an opportunity to be the center of energy and commerce here in West Virginia."

Hamilton's speech came less than a week after Sen. Robert Byrd said the coal industry needs to stop using "fear mongering, grandstanding and outrage as a strategy" and instead help stave off global climate change and curb the mountaintop mining method.

Hamilton ticked off a list of "challenges" facing the industry: global climate change, cap-and-trade legislation, increasing the renewables portfolio; "EPA's assault on coal," and the "absolute war on mountaintop mining."

Regarding the federal Environmental Protection Agency Hamilton said, "We have anything but predictability in the permitting process today." He said the federal Office of Surface Mining "is now entering into the fray. We are seeing an unprecedented number of policy changes."

Hamilton said West Virginia coal powers 40 percent of the East Coast and that the coal and electric utilities together pay more than 60 percent of the state's business taxes.

The law doesn't draw a distinction between surface mining and mountaintop removal mining, he said. About 42 percent of the state's coal production - approximately 65 million tons a year - comes from surface mines, he said.

About 42 percent or 12 million tons of coal produced in Kanawha County comes from surface mines and about 62 percent or 34 million tons of coal produced in Boone County comes from surface mines, he said.

"In Clay County, 95 percent or 4 million tons annually, is from surface mining," Hamilton said. He noted that on Tuesday Consol Energy announced that it could lay off 482 workers and idle mountaintop removal mining at its Fola Coal Co. and Little Eagle Coal Co. operations near Bickmore in Clay County.

Consol blamed the layoff notice on environmentalists who successfully sued to block water quality permits to allow mountaintop mining at two of Fola's mine sites.

Hamilton showed a series of before-and-after pictures of sites that have been reclaimed after mining. The "after" pictures were green and lovely.

Earlier at the summit, Gov. Joe Manchin said, "We have no certainty with permitting," and, "We want some clarity."

"We need our partner in Washington to help us - to not be our adversary but our ally," Manchin said. "We haven't quite got there yet."

Bob Percopo, executive vice president of Global Marine & Energy, also spoke at the summit. Global Marine & Energy insures energy businesses.

"I've been asked to comment on Wall Street's view on energy," he said. "There isn't any. The markets are basically shut down.

"The commercial banks are unable to securitize loans so they can't make new loans," he said. "Their tolerance for risk is at an all-time low."

"The biggest problem the market is facing is the lack of certainty," Percopo said. "Lenders want certainty. The energy space has anything but certainty these days."

Some of the programs to limit or regulate carbon dioxide emissions that are being talked about in Washington, D.C., "could add 25 percent to 40 percent to the capital cost of projects," he said. "The U.S. Treasury's estimate of what carbon abatement will cost is $300 billion a year.

"When Obama announced he was stepping up the number of troops in Afghanistan at a price of $30 billion, people went crazy. But nobody is focusing on carbon abatement, which is estimated to cost $12 trillion from now to 2050."

Percopo said the only bright spot is in the construction sector. "The people who build power plants. They're getting more reasonable because all of their projects are being canceled," he said.

About 225 leaders from government and industry attended the energy summit at Stonewall Resort.

Contact writer George Hohmann at or 304-348-4836.