By John Miller
May 13, 2018 - When West Virginia Governor Jim Justice was campaigning for his current position, he said he would be the state’s biggest cheerleader.
There is no doubt he is a towering figure, both in terms of stature and success. And there’s no doubt he has lived up to his claim: He is the state’s biggest advocate.
He truly believes West Virginia’s future is brighter and that coal will remain a driving force for the foreseeable future.
Citing President Donald Trump’s influence in lifting repressive EPA rules and advocating for a stronger economy, Justice says coal is trending up. And the numbers tell the same story.
Coal prices, both for thermal and metallurgical coal, are up. Subsequently, production is up. And severance tax collections are up.
Justice told The State Journal in an exclusive interview that he believes thermal coal production, used for power generation, could still rise 10 percent to 15 percent. And he believes met coal could double production, based on demand and pricing.
Justice mentioned that when he took office, combined coal production was about 73 million tons. He believes thermal and met coal production could approach 120 million tons if national and worldwide factors, like oil prices, demand and market, conditions continue.
And that would add hundreds of millions of dollars to state coffers — something the governor touted when he was campaigning.
Economists like John Deskins, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at West Virginia University and one of the most trusted voices in state economics, aren’t as optimistic.
Deskins believes the numbers point to coal’s “bounce-back last year” but that the increase won’t continue at much of a rate.
He and other experts who compile a forecast for coal production in the Mountain State believe it will “remain flat the next four or five years.”
“That’s not as good as growth, but it’s better than decline,” Deskins told State Journal Staff Writer Rusty Marks.
Other experts indicate there’s a chance for modest growth but no major increase.
So who to believe? A governor known for his optimistic outlook but also his huge success in the business world, whose family has been in the mining business for years, or others who study the numbers and are known to be more cautious?
Let’s face it. We all hope Justice is right. And if he is, combined with the natural gas growth expected from two major pipeline projects, as well as the Roads to Prosperity bond infrastructure projects, West Virginia’s economy will be booming.
It’s a story Gov. Justice wants to tell. It’s a story we all want to believe.
It’s one we pray to be true. For if it comes to pass, West Virginia clearly won’t be 50th in the nation and our citizens’ quality of life will be greatly enhanced.
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