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With support staff exiting, coal industry hopes price rebound will end bankruptcies

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With support staff exiting, coal industry hopes price rebound will end bankruptcies

Thisweek brought on the departure of two additional prominent U.S. coal industryadvocates, but leading producers have an eye on a surprising global coal pricerebound that they hope will keep them off the path to .

BillBissett, president of the Kentucky Coal Association and a vocal critic of theObama administration's environmental policies, plans to step down from hisposition Nov. 1. In an interview this week with S&P Global MarketIntelligence, Bissett laidblame on the administration for the loss of thousands of Kentuckycoal mining jobs and revenue from coal production, but advised his successor tokeep an open mind amid an extremely partisan energy policy debate.

Additionally,Laura Sheehan, spokesperson of the American Coalition for Clean CoalElectricity and a leading advocate for coal-burning utilities, said she wasstepping down Dec. 31as the organization transitions towards new leadership.

BobMurray, founder and CEO of the country's largest privately-held coal minerisn't going anywhere, however. He told S&P Global Market Intelligencerecently about his four-pointplan to keep MurrayEnergy Corp., which he calls the "best coal company in theworld," out of bankruptcy. He is anticipating a lower thermal coal demandenvironment in the future, but believes he has carefully chosen assets in theright coal basins to best serve remaining coal-burning plants.

Murrayis also a leading litigant in a broad industry challenge against the U.S.EPA's Clean Power Plan, which saw its day in court this week as oral argumentswere heard. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuitwrapped up a marathon sessionof arguments late Sept. 27 by questioning opponents' claims that thecarbon-cutting rule is unconstitutional and that the U.S. EPA failed to showits goals are achievable, among other issues.

Afterbottoming out in the spring, global thermal coal prices have on production curtailments inChina, the world's leading coal consumer, but global metallurgical coal priceshave really been on atear. They have just about doubled since July, with strong demandfor the steelmaking ingredient surging in China and producers globallyscrambling to acquire mines that had previously been unloaded as nearlyworthless.

Thisweek privately-held Royal EnergyResources Inc. confirmed discussions with for apossible bid forAtlantic's anthracite mines in eastern Pennsylvania. Atlantic has beenapproached by two other interested companies.

Therise in seaborne coal prices prompted an upgrade this week of Alabama-based by analysts atS&P Global Ratings.

Inother ratings news, S&P Global Ratings lowered the credit rating Powder River Basin coal minerCloud Peak EnergyInc. following a "below-par" exchange offer for seniorunsecured notes. The company this week extended the early tender date on the offer until Oct.4. Investors seemed to shrug off the ratings action as Cloud Peak shares weretrading about 13% higher on the week as of early Sept. 30.

Domesticcoal rail traffic pulledback slightly this week and remains off about 26% year-to-datecompared to 2015 as stubbornly-high utility coal stockpiles have promptedwidespread production cuts. But a hot summer and rising natural gas prices aredrawing stockpileslower, giving producers some hope for the remainder of the year.

Future events:

National Coal Council FallMeeting: Theadvisory board will hold its annual fall meeting Oct.4 and 5 at the Hilton Milwaukee City Center.

Met Coke World Summit: The event will be held Oct. 18-20 inPittsburgh, Pa.

S&P Global Ratings andS&P Global Market Intelligence are owned by S&P Global Inc.