Snyder saddened by Dana Mine closure due to geological problems

While still supporting coal, we must continue to diversify and retrain

The recent announcement by Dana Mining of Pennsylvania LLC that it will close its 4 West Mine near Mt. Morris, which employs 370, offers some important insights about the state of our economy and its health moving forward.

The Dana decision shows that sometimes, pure economics and not government policy is the driver of such outcomes. News reports put high production costs – including poor geological conditions – and inability to compete with longwall mining at the center of the company’s decision.

In this case, Dana officials say it’s other producers of steam coal, not natural gas or renewable energy, that have made it difficult for them to compete. They were mining the smaller Sewickley seam while using continuous mining machines, not removing the thicker Pittsburgh seam with higher-producing longwall mining machines.

Coal remains a nonrenewable resource, and while the industry continues providing good-paying jobs that are desperately needed, the costs of extraction can – as in the case of Dana – become prohibitive in a market where you’re competing not just with other forms of energy, but with other coal producers.

In 2013, there were just shy of 50,000 underground coal mining jobs in the United States, including about 6,000 in Pennsylvania. This represents a precipitous drop from the nearly 900,000 employed in 1923, and is part of a steady downward trend. We also can’t discount the effects of mechanization, competition from other energy sources and the fact, as shown by the Dana example, that underground coal can get expensive to mine.

According to an analysis in the Washington Post, in 2014 the entire U.S. coal mining industry employed 76,572 – fewer workers than museums (91,966), travel agencies (99,888) and used car dealers (138,058).

We don’t have to like these numbers or the way the decades-long trend has gone – and I certainly do not. But even as we lead the charge, fighting the good fight to keep coal a viable part of the nation’s energy portfolio, we must also recognize the need to continue diversifying our economy so that it’s no longer reliant on the up-and-down whims of any single industry.

As an elected official and community leader who literally grew up surrounded by the tradition of coal mining and knows firsthand its importance to families and the overall health of our local economy, you can bet that I’ll do all that is humanly possible to make sure every chunk of coal that can be mined is.

But simultaneously, we’ve also got to make sure that, in cases like Dana where coal production is no longer economically viable, displaced workers get the unemployment benefits needed to tide them over and the job retraining opportunities required to continue earning a decent living.

Coal mining has no bigger fan than Pam Snyder, and I’ll continue advocating for sound and reasonable government policies to make sure that coal can compete and isn’t prematurely retired from the nation’s energy portfolio.

It’s a sad economic fact that with Dana’s closure, only two major coal mining operations are left in Greene County, at the Bailey and Cumberland mines. Eventually – and I’ll lead the charge to make sure it’s later rather than sooner – those coal reserves will be depleted, too. And you can’t plant seeds to make them grow back.

For our economic health and well-being now and in the future, as we continue vigorously promoting coal we must also cultivate efforts to diversify our base. That’s a recipe to feed everyone’s prosperity.

State Rep. Pam Snyder, D-Greene/Fayette/Washington, represents the 50th Legislative District.