By Charles Young
November 14, 2021 - The recently passed $1 trillion infrastructure bill is estimated to be the largest investment in the nation’s roads and bridges since the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which recently received final congressional approval and is expected to be signed by President Joe Biden in the coming days, is good news for the state’s coal industry, according to West Virginia Coal Association President Chris Hamilton.
“The core of the infrastructure package is intended to help repair and build out new infrastructure — everything from our roads, bridges, airports, interstate systems and rail systems — so there will obviously be greater power demands,” he said. “Also, for steelmaking. It’s good for coal both for power generation and the raw materials used in the steelmaking process and cement making.”
Hamilton said he hopes the coal industry can capitalize on the opportunities provided by the infrastructure bill.
“Throughout the course of the next couple years, there ought to be renewed attention that’s given to our miners and mining operations,” he said.
Investing in the nation’s infrastructure has historically been a bipartisan issue. But the 13 House Republicans who voted in favor of the bill, including Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., have recently come under fire from fellow Republicans critical of the legislation.
That is likely due in part to the Build Back Better bill, the multitrillion-dollar package containing the bulk of President Joe Biden’s social agenda, being linked to the infrastructure bill in the media and in the minds of the public, Hamilton said.
“For all intents and purposes, that was being considered along with the infrastructure bill,” he said. “Some of the lines became blurred between what was in the infrastructure bill and what was in the budget reconciliation bill.”
The infrastructure bill contains a number of provisions that will ultimately benefit the coal industry and its stakeholders, Hamilton said.
“There are monies in here for carbon capture utilization and storage; there is money in there to help jump-start this whole universe of coal-to-products and advanced carbon alternatives,” he said. “There is money in here for rare earth elements to be able to take that to full-scale feasibility demonstration products. And there’s also the Abandoned Mine Lands program. On balance, there’s a lot of things in here for coal.”
The infrastructure bill authorizes $11.3 billion for the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fund and extends collection of the Abandoned Mine Lands Reclamation Fee for 13 years. This fee levied on coal provides funding for the reclamation program.
As of September 2020, there were at least 140,355 acres of unfunded Abandoned Mine Lands problem areas in West Virginia, which would cost at least $1.78 billion to reclaim, according to information supplied by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
According to an estimate from the American Steel and Iron Institute, demand for American steel could increase by as much as five million tons for every $100 billion of new infrastructure investment.
“American steel built this country, and the industry is now ready to get to work on rebuilding this country. Repairing and modernizing our national transportation system is essential, and we are glad Congress agrees,” said Kevin Dempsey, American Steel and Iron Institute president and CEO. “Funding roads and bridges, ports and waterways, water infrastructure, the electric grid and investing in electric vehicle systems all will require a lot of steel — and our industry is ready to provide that steel.”