Published February 1982 — Download PDF of the original newspaper column
Byrd's-Eye View By U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd World Coal Trade The absence of a meaningful coal export policy by the current Administration jeopardizes our nation's trade position and could seriously impair the future of American coal as an international energy resource. Unfortunately, after more than one year in office, the Administration has failed to endorse policies that would encourage the development of our nation's coal, which is a convenient alternative to foreign oil. Past initiatives to increase domestic coal production, improve the necessary transportation infrastructure, and establish a political climate that would be reassuring to coal-importing nations have been abandoned. Consequently, all the momentum that had been building toward an articulated and meaningful coal export policy has been lost. For example, the deepening of America's harbors to allow entry of new colliers of 150,000 tons or more is considered essential for the American coal industry to develop its export market to its full potential. The larger ships are expected to offer a 30-to-50 percent transportation-cost advantage over older, smaller ships, thus making American coal a more economically- attractive source of energy. The Administration, however, has endorsed legislation that would require port authorities to privately finance 100 percent of the costs of dredging harbors to greater depths, without any federal government support. Such an approach reflects a complete reversal of policies that have guided waterway development for the last 150 years. Because port improvements would generate benefits to broad regions of the country, and to the nation's economy as a whole, the federal government has a responsibility to help initiate and complete the deepening of our harbors. West Virginia is a case in point. Although our state has no deep-water ports, improvements to harbors elsewhere in the country would assist in the transportation of West Virginia coal to export markets. In 1980, West Virginia produced 44.1 million tons of coal for exports, almost 50 percent of all coal exported. Any increase in West Virginia's coal exports, of course, would translate into additional jobs and added revenue paid in state and local taxes. Coal now supplies more than 25 percent of the world's energy needs. During the next 20 years, coal will supply one-half to two-thirds of the additional energy required worldwide. Such expansion of the world coal trade holds great potential for the health of our economy and for our balance of trade. But to take advantage of this potential, the U.S. needs a well-focused and defined government role in coal export policy; one that includes the deepening of our harbors.