The Current Situation
Today, and since the early 1990s, anthracite mining, processing and distribution activities in Pennsylvania are but a shadow of historical levels. Production from mining averages two to three million tons and direct employment in the industry approximates 1000. The industry is composed of a few larger companies (Atlantic Carbon, Blaschak, Lehigh, Pagnotti, Reading) and two to three dozen smaller producers/processors. Current domestic demand for anthracite is driven primarily by steelmaking needs in the Electric Arc Furnace segment of the industry, residential space heating, municipal water filtration and Sugar Beet refining. Over the last ten years, growth in the coal-fired pizza sector has been a small but bright spot. Export opportunities are intermittent, coming and going based on currency values, ocean freight rates and the availability and price of foreign-sourced material. While mining sector employment is at a very low level, miners typically earn wages that place them at a high level in the region. Miners’ wages are two times the median household income level for the counties in the Pennsylvania anthracite region.
While “remining” is an operationally challenging activity, Pennsylvania anthracite does have some inherent advantages related to quality and location. The quality of Pennsylvania anthracite is among the best in the world with high carbon content and low sulfur. We are blessed with an experienced work force that demonstrates an outstanding work ethic. We are in close proximity to major interstate highways that provide access to domestic markets. The industry is served by the Reading Blue Mountain & Northern Railroad feeding the Norfolk Southern, providing timely and efficient access to markets. Finally, production is located less than 200 miles from major ports serving international trade.
While current production levels are at historic lows, and employment has followed, there are a number of reasons why a healthy anthracite mining and processing industry is critically important to the region. As stated earlier, the region is pock marked with abandoned mines, slopes, shafts and drifts, and refuse piles, all of which contribute to safety and environmental deficiencies such as surface subsidence, underground mine fires and acid mine drainage. These conditions will never be corrected without the continuation and completion of the task of extracting the valuable commodity that remains in our coal lands.
Surface mining works through previous underground and surface workings, uncovering openings and rebuilding the structure from the bottom up to re-establish a natural surface.
Mining in the region is accomplished under “Reclamation and Remining” permits that through “full cost bonding,” assure the full reclamation and restoration of surface and water flow once mining is completed. This structure promotes an effective collaboration between our primary regulator, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the industry, assuring the completion of the task of returning the surface to as near “original” condition as possible as the work of mining, backfilling and final reclamation is accomplished.
Ongoing anthracite production also funds the restoration of abandoned mine lands through a “Reclamation Tax” on each ton of anthracite produced. The industry, not public tax funds, finances the repair of these legacy issues and assures available funding to restore land that will never again be mined. Over the past four years, nearly $185 million from this fund has been invested in Pennsylvania reclaiming abandoned mine lands.
Today, modern surface mining utilizes sophisticated safety, equipment, planning, and training to maximize the safety and minimize health impacts of this activity. It is not your grandfather’s industry.
Finally, the local cogeneration industry has been responsible for the consumption of hundreds of millions of tons of refuse materials, generating power and steam for local use. This element of the anthracite industry is an important link to eliminating the remaining piles of refuse that still mark the lands.
Posted on 10/17/18
By Greg Driscoll