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A slow process

April 25, 2008
By JOSELYN KING, Special to the Herald-Star
WHEELING — A very slow permitting process is hindering the growth of West Virginia’s coal mining industry, said international coal executives gathered in Wheeling this week.

The issue was among those discussed as planners for the International Coal Preparation Congress met at Oglebay Park to prepare for the congress, set for 2010 in Lexington, Ky.

‘‘The biggest constraint to the future of West Virginia coal is the permitting process,’’ said Peter Belker of Arch Coal Inc. ‘‘The market is there, the coal is there and the jobs could be there.’’

He added that if the state’s permitting issues were resolved, West Virginia could play ‘‘a huge role’’ in the future of the coal industry.

‘‘To put a new mine in today is expensive, and it takes a long time,’’ Belker said.

He and others present pointed to the new deep mine being constructed locally by Alliance Coal Co. A staff has been in Wheeling for three years just working to obtain the needed permits, the group said.

William Kalb of Tra Det Laboratories Inc. in Wheeling serves as chairman of the planning committee for the International Coal Preparation Congress. He said at least two representatives from coal companies in at least 13 nations are attending the committee’s meeting in Wheeling, and some representatives came with interpreters.

Among the coal-producing countries represented at Oglebay Park are China, Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Australia, Turkey, Canada, England and South Africa.

Kalb said while the congress meets every four years, it has not met in the United States since 1966.

During the congress, the coal experts exchange technology information about how they can produce coal more cleanly and cheaply, according to Kalb. The emphasis of the congress will be to talk about ‘‘pre-combustion techniques’’ of reducing coal-related pollution and how coal can be better cleaned before it is used.

‘‘A scrubber on a power plant stack is an example of a ‘post-combustion’ technique,’’ Kalb said.

The planning conference began Wednesday at Wilson Lodge and concludes today.

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