Coal is down. That’s not news to anyone who pays even the slightest attention to the industry. Peabody Energy Corp., the largest U.S. coal mining company, just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, following the path taken by Arch Coal, Inc., Alpha Natural Resources, Inc., Patriot Coal Corp. and Walter Energy, Inc.
Amidst this economic turmoil, we should be very proud of the fact that the coal industry is the safest it has ever been. The overall injury rate for miners has never been lower. Fatalities in coal are at an all-time low. These are accomplishments that everyone in the industry, including MSHA, should take great pride in. Good mine operators know that keeping miners safe is essential to running a profitable mine.
In my most recent column for Coal Age, “MSHA’s Up, Coal is Down,” I take a look at MSHA’s budget request for 2017. Coal mines are safer now that at any point in our history, MSHA has fewer coal mines to inspect and many fewer inspections to conduct, and those are all facts that MSHA itself recognizes in its budget request. Nevertheless, MSHA has asked Congress for a larger budget and more authority.
Coal will stage a comeback. In the meantime, with everyone in the industry trying hard to make do with less, I don’t think it’s too much to ask MSHA to make do with what it already has.