House Lawmakers Plan Push to Find New Uses for Coal

By Stephen Lee

Republican lawmakers will renew their push to boost the coal industry in a hearing July 24, searching for ways to find new customers for the mineral or new uses apart from burning it for energy or steelmaking.

The effort comes as part of a broader push, which has the backing of the Trump administration, to find new customers for coal. Doing so could save thousands of jobs in Appalachia and western states such as Wyoming and Montana, coal boosters say.

Witnesses are expected to tell the House Natural Resources Committee about the successes their companies have had in exporting coal to Asian markets, what future international demand will look like, and how hydrocarbons can be extracted from coal waste to be used for other purposes, a committee staffer told Bloomberg Environment.

The witnesses at the hearing are expected to include Randall Atkins, chief executive officer of Kentucky’s Ramaco Carbon, which turns coal into materials such as building products and carbon fibers; Michael Klein, vice president of Utah coal exporter Lighthouse Resources Inc.; and Julian McIntyre, founder and chief executive officer of Arq, a multinational company that separates hydrocarbons from coal waste.

Coal Uses

Coal can be used to make products such as tennis rackets, resins, water and air filters, cosmetics, shampoos, and toothpaste, according to the World Coal Association. The refuse also can be processed to yield both critical minerals and usable coal fragments. So far, however, none of those applications has reached broad scale.

At a National Coal Council meeting in April, Atkins said three product groups offer the most promise: chemicals, carbon fiber, and building products. For example, coal can be used to make rebar and asphalt roof shingles, and those processes could require very large volumes of it, Atkins said.

During the hearing, the Republican lawmakers are almost certain to face resistance from Democrats who have long argued that coal mining is harmful to the environment.

U.S. coal producers have seen their sales drop steadily over the years, thanks largely to cheap natural gas. In the first half of 2018, domestic production fell by 9 million short tons, a 2 percent dip over the same period the previous year, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Coal’s share of the energy mix has fallen from 52.8 percent in 1997 to 30.1 percent in 2017, with further decreases expected.