Balanced federal regs essential to ensure energy, environment, public health thrive

Originally published in the Daily Energy Insider. Click here to find the original article.

Federal lawmakers must advance balanced national legislation and regulations in order to protect public health and the environment while also encouraging innovation and expansion in the energy industry, said business executive Michael D. Brennan, senior vice president of the Associated Equipment Distributors (AED) board.

“The federal government must get out of the way and not place unnecessary, burdensome and duplicative regulations on energy companies,” Brennan told Daily Energy Insider.

In discussing the international trade association’s top legislative and regulatory priorities this year as they relate to mining and energy production under the Trump administration, Brennan pointed out a few positive steps that already have been taken on Capitol Hill.

For instance, President Donald Trump and Congress Feb. 16 used the Congressional Review Act to repeal the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule, which the Obama administration finalized in 2016 to stop mining companies from dumping mountaintop removal debris into nearby valleys and streams. Brennan called the rule “duplicative and unnecessary.” Others agree, saying the rule’s limits on coal mining near waterways conflicted with the Surface Mining Control and Reclamations Act, making the rule legally questionable.

Then on Feb. 28, Trump signed an executive order calling for a federal review of the Clean Water Rule, also known as the “Waters of the United States Rule”—an Obama administration 2015 regulation that reinterpreted and then extended federal protections under the Clean Water Act to smaller rivers and streams. Brennan called Trump’s action an important step; Trump called the rule “one of the worst examples of federal regulation.” A review from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is forthcoming.

“Both [rules] were poised to curtail energy development and were particularly detrimental to the mining sector,” Brennan said.

AED, which represents some 500 member companies involved in the distribution, rental and support of equipment that’s used in construction, mining, forestry, power generation, agriculture and industrial applications, believes its members can ensure the American people have clean air and water while developing the country’s abundance of natural resources, Brennan wrote in an email.

“To start, Congress and the administration must work together to open more federal land to energy development, including mining and shale oil extraction,” he said.

As a proponent of the Keystone XL pipeline project, Brennan said AED is excited about Trump’s March 24 approval of the cross-border permit needed to continue construction of the pipeline from Canada into the United States.

“However, our country is still lacking the infrastructure to efficiently transport developed energy resources. Consequently, modernizing the application review process for natural gas pipeline projects is necessary,” he added.

Restarting coal
Brennan is president and COO of Bramco Inc., a construction, mining and industrial equipment sales, rental and service networks company headquartered in Louisville, Kentucky—known as Derby City because the Kentucky Derby is held there every year.

Louisville and the rest of the state also are known for something else: coal production. And during a visit to Louisville in March, Trump told supporters that he’s working on new executive actions designed to revive the coal mines.

For companies like Bramco, that’s great news.

“Our greatest challenge is the continuation of reinventing our company given the devastating demise of the coal industry in Kentucky,” Brennan said.

Coal production in Kentucky declined from 120.4 million tons in 2008 to 42.6 million tons in 2016—a 65 percent decline in production, according to Brennan. Eastern Kentucky was hit the hardest, he said, with coal production plummeting 82 percent from 2008 to 2016 to only 16.7 million tons.

“The impact to people’s jobs and lives in coal regions where they have lived for generations has been terrible,” said Brennan.

Bramco has been fortunate to have successful operations in many markets outside of “coal country,” Brennan said.

“For instance, the aggregates mining industry has been robust recently and we operate in three of the 12 largest aggregates-producing states in the U.S. (Kentucky, Indiana, Tennessee). We have been very successful with diversification into non-coal markets [and] we plan to continue to put more emphasis on growth opportunities in our non-coal markets,” he said.

Nevertheless, coal will continue to be a cornerstone of Bramco’s business, especially considering Trump’s plans.

“We are excited about the new administration’s attitude towards the coal industry and are hopeful that no further damage will be inflicted on the coal industry. Also, we are hopeful that the new administration will quickly pass the much talked about $1 trillion infrastructure package as it will create jobs, grow the economy and restore our country’s aging infrastructure,” Brennan wrote in an email.

Details about the Trump administration’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan are supposed to be released before the year ends, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said last month in Washington, D.C. More information on infrastructure funding items may be included in the president’s full fiscal year 2018 budget, which he’s supposed to release next month.

In the meantime, to anyone considering a job in mining, Brennan offered some advice about what he calls an “exciting, fast-paced and always changing” industry.

“The mining industry has always been driven by entrepreneurs and risk-takers. For those considering a job in mining, I would encourage their involvement as innovation and entrepreneurship are critical for the industry and individuals with those skills will create new opportunities,” he said.

And though the coal industry faces challenges, Brennan said, coal is and will be a major source of electricity in the United States and around the world.

“Also, metallurgical coal is a backbone for industry as steel cannot be made without it,” he added.