September 14, 2017 - The 22nd biennial Bluefield Coal Show at the Brushfork Armory officially kicked off Wednesday morning, welcoming 195 exhibitors to the “coal show for coal people” and celebrating optimism amid a renewed growth in the market.
“We have worked to make it a good show every year of the show,” said Charlie Peters, who has been general chairman of the show since its start in 1976.
Peters spoke at the traditional Media Appreciation Breakfast, held immediately before the ribbon-cutting to open the show.
“The coal show is meant for professionals in the industry to meet other professions and discuss what is going on,” he said. “It’s a way to get the message out to everyone so they can understand what is happening in the industry.”
Bill Reid, publisher of Coal News Inc. and the online industry website Coal Zoom, also welcomed guests.
“It’s certainly great to be here at another Bluefield Coal Show,” he said, “to see so many old friends again, bringing friends together who we haven’t seen for a long time.”
Reid, a fifth generation mining engineer from Scotland, said he was “delighted” to be at the show “where we have 195 exhibitors who are here and betting on the future of the coal industry.”
Reid said the latest statistics show coal, at 30 percent, is ahead of natural gas, at 29 percent, as the “largest fuel source on the grid.”
“That’s wonderful for all of us and let’s be happy about that,” he said. “We are back as a coal show and as a coal industry.”
Buddy Miller, whose father, the late Frazier Miller, was involved in the show from its inception, carries on the tradition and organized the breakfast.
Miller praised coal miners for their work and thanked the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce, hosts of the show, and the volunteers.
“This is run by volunteers,” he said.
Miller also introduced the guest speaker, Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association,
“We are here at another great Bluefield Coal Show and we have another great guest speaker,” he said.
Quinn said the industry has been subject to “disabling” federal policies over the last eight years, but that has changed with a new administration in Washington.
“Recent federal policies under the last administration … with the regulatory burden penalized the coal industry and consumers,” he said. “Driving coal out of the market had little to do with emissions.”
Quinn, who is based in Washington and works with government officials and politicians, was referring to emission standards by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) that included many regulations related to the use of coal in power plants.
Those regulations, he said, were too excessive, with many unnecessary and stifling the growth of the industry.
Quinn said natural gas has not been the “sole driver” of the downturn, but has benefited from the policies that have punished coal but subsidized renewable energy sources.
“Together, these forces have sent a distorted signal to the market place,” he said.
But all of the excessive regulations are now being reviewed and that has allowed optimism in the industry and the market place, he added.
An example of that was after Pres. Donald Trump was surrounded by coal miners and signed an executive order (to review the Obama Administration’s proposed tighter EPA emissions standards), he said. “That measure (the executive order) saved about a third of the coal workforce and avoided paralyzing the industry.”
Benefits from reviewing those regulations before they were enacted, he said, include saving 240 million tons of coal production annually, 27,000 coal mining jobs and 98,000 jobs related to coal.
“Coal is rebounding,” he said, citing statistics that show an increase in the tonnage being produced and shipped overseas and overall production. “It (the new regulatory environment) is providing some much needed stability that would have remained out of reach without some changes in Washington.”
Quinn said the nation should pursue a “balanced policy that preserves national optionals” with energy.
“Keeping coal on the (energy) grid makes more sense than keeping it under the ground,” he said, adding that it’s a matter of “bringing common sense and common benefits to all consumers.”
As both state and federal governments are now reviewing how things are done, the industry should do the same, he said. “We need to look inward and focus on what we can control, what we do control, to make it more competitive.”
“Tough times bring game-changing innovations in productivity and supply chains,” he said. “It’s about delivery costs, the logistics of the transportation segment ... How we can offer better service and competitive prices should be our goal.”
Quinn said the Bluefield Coal Show was the “best venue” to show the “remarkable resiliency in our coal.”
He said for the last eight years he was sleeping like a baby: “Waking up every three hours and crying.”
“Now, there is no time for sleep,” he said. “There are too many opportunities and too much ground to cover. I have a great team and they are working around the clock.”
After the breakfast, Quinn joined other dignitaries to cut the ribbon in front of the armory to officially open the show.
Ronn Robinson, with AEP (Appalachian Electric Power) and chair of the economic enhancement division of the chamber, welcomed everyone and said the show demonstrates what coal means to the area.
Bluefield Mayor Ron Martin also spoke and said the show is a special occasion.
“I am truly honored to be here,” he said, adding that he sells groceries for a living (Martin is co-owner of Grant’s Supermarkets) but recognizes the significance of the coal show.
“It is the largest single economic driver during the time period for the entire community,” he said.
Quinn told the crowd gathered for the ceremony that it’s “a great show that showcases the industry.”
Peters then cut the ribbon to open the show.
After the ribbon-cutting, Bill Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said it’s a “great show.”
It is also appropriate that the show is held in the heart of coal country with a 150-year tradition, he added.
“We have the best coal miners in the world,” he said. “Bluefield is the heartbeat of the Appalachian coal industry.”
“We are all really excited,” said Josh Cline, CEO and president of the chamber. “We have a lengthy slate of exhibitors and Hal gave a great forecast for the coal industry.”
Cline said as the show drew closer, the excitement in the industry was obvious.
“We had folks keep calling in and signing up,” he said. “All the buzz is positive for the industry. It’s giving the show a nice pulse.”
That pulse was felt by Joe Wortsmith with Laser Tools Inc. of Little Rock, Ark.
Wortsmith said he as been to several shows, but this was the first time as an exhibitor.
“I was here in 2015 and it (the atmosphere of the show) was negative,” he said. “But this year is a different environment, much more positive.”
Wortsmith said the optimism has been created by results, and he has seen an increase in business for his company, which is the only one that makes laser tools for underground mining.
“We have sold more in the last year than we did the two years before that,” he said.
State Sen. Chandler Swope (R-6h District) said he could sense the upbeat attitude and the show is a big plus for the area.
“This is good all the way around,” he said. “It helps the local economy as well as showcase the industry.”
Swope said he was seeing a lot of optimism at the show and is hopeful the upswing in the industry will continue.
Mercer County Commissioner Greg Puckett also saw the positive attitudes and said he was happy about the local impact of the show.
“This is big,” he said. “It is the single greatest economic stimulus for a one-time event in the county and area.”
The show is also a big event for the chamber.
John Mahood, treasurer for the chamber, said the show is the “main event” every two years, and it takes two years to plan it.
“The coal industry prefers that too because it’s expensive for them,” he said.
Mahood said it would be too expensive for the chamber to put it on without volunteers, and that help provides the chamber the opportunity to showcase the industry and to raise funding for the chamber’s operations.
“It (the show) is the backbone of our financial security,” he said.
Other dignitaries on hand for the breakfast and ribbon-cutting included Tazewell County Board of Supervisor members Charlie Stacy and Mike Hymes, Mercer County Commissioners Gene Buckner and Bill Archer, and state Delegates Marty Gearheart and John Shott.
Aerial Photo of the Bluefield Coal Show
Photo by David McNeil, Grubb Photo Service