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Colo. mining group head blasts government for coal troubles ahead of exit

Weeks before officially leaving his position as thepresident of the Colorado Mining Association, Stuart Sanderson outlined thechallenges facing the state's coal industry, laying much of the blame on thelocal and federal government.

Sanderson dismissed the argument that market forces,including low natural gas prices, had been the most significant weight on thestate's industry.

"Those who seek to drive coal out of the energy mix tryto pin the decline in coal production entirely on market forces and seek toblame 'low natural gas prices,' but it wasn't low gas prices that led to theshutdown of 1,000 MW of coal generation in Colorado, it was government,"Sanderson told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Sanderson offered sharp criticism for the state's DemocraticGov. John Hickenlooper for legislation that began to put pressure on coal-firedpower plants as early as 2010 and a draft executive order intended to cutcarbon emissions in the state that was leakedto the public in August.

Sanderson's exit from the mining administration comes as thestate's coal industry is expected to hit lows in production not seen in 40years, a decline thatSanderson said is expected to continue.

The outgoing president said the industry's challenges havebeen made significantly worse by local leadership, suggesting that it is oftenan extension of Obama administration policies, most notably the U.S. EPA'sClean Power Plan.

"We're very concerned about the direction the governoris going by drafting an executive order that goes along with parts of the cleanpower plan that the legislature made very clear their desire not to go forwardwith and at least wait until the stay has been fully adjudicated,"Sanderson said.

The EPA's carbon plan was granted a stay by the U.S. Supreme Court in February,and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is scheduledto hear oral arguments on the plan beginning Sept. 27.

With so much blame laid on the state and federal government,Sanderson said the most likely source of relief is a Republican victory inNovember.

Officially, the Colorado Mining Association does not endorseany candidates, though Sanderson said the choice for coal advocates is clear.

Sanderson said Trump provides the of putting miners back to workand reversing regulations so often cited as detrimental to the coal industry,while Hillary Clinton offersa "myopic view that does not reflect reality and could plunge our nationinto darkness both from a literal and economic standpoint."

"Our future has been politicked to an extreme,"Sanderson said. "It's not just a war on coal — it's a war on our country'senergy security, on American jobs, a war, quite frankly, on clean reliableenergy. The future is going to depend on what happens in this election — I don'tthink there is any argument there."

However, Sanderson allowed that whatever happens in November— or in future elections — the state's coal industry must prepare forchallenges ahead and a long-term energy landscape that looks very differentthan it once did.

"I think our future is going to be very challenging inthe near term," he said. "Everyone is looking for the new normal. Thegoal now is to work for policies that will truly reflect an all-of-the-aboveenergy strategy, which we don't have."

In practice, Sanderson said this means more engagement inboth politics and educational outreach, as well as pushing for greaterdiscussion about coal's role in the climate change debate. He said the currentdebate over the issue does not allow for any counter to the "consensus"view.

"Consensus is a matter of politics, not a matter ofscience," he said. "After all, if you want to go back far enough, Ithink that the consensus was clearly against Galileo and Copernicus at onetime."

Despite the challenges ahead, Sanderson said he remainedconfident in coal's presence in the state, concluding, "We'll find a way.We'll get through this."

Sanderson's exit also comes at an increasingly time for coal andmining administrations, which have found themselves with fewer resources towork with due to the broader industry downturn.

This week also saw the announced of Bill Bissett as presidentof the Kentucky Coal Association.

Sanderson will officially be replaced by Stan Dempsey Jr. inearly October.