SHAMOKIN - Most local coal operations will not be directly affected by the stricter regulations being discussed at this week's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearings, but area miners say the increased rules will still crush the industry.

Today, the EPA will host hearings in Pittsburgh on the new regulations, which seek to curb carbon pollution by 30 percent by the year 2030 through new rules on coal-burning power plants. The regulations are expected to close many coal-burning plants nationwide in exchange for alternative energy sources like natural gas and wind.

Local miners say the anthracite coal harvested from their mines is not used primarily for coal-fired power plants so their demand will not immediately be affected.

Margie (Shingara) Conrad, a member of the notable Shingara mining clan, said her family's operations in Zerbe Township currently supply their coal to steel factories rather than power plants.

"They now use coal as a carbon product rather than use it to burn to produce the steel," she said. "They use it in the steel."

Still, Conrad is critical of the EPA's proposed regulations shutting down coal-burning power plants.

"There has to be other uses for it," said Conrad. "And if there's not, it is the death of the industry. And I don't know how much it can be sustained by steel plants."

Hurting coal

Bobby Burns, president of Keystone Anthracite, which operates a strip-mining operation in Zerbe Township, said the majority of his coal was used in home heating and the rest in the steel industry. He said that although the EPA cannot regulate the privately-owned coal stoves used to heat homes, he is still concerned about its long-term goals.

"Everything they're doing is hurting coal in general, and they're picking who the winners are going to be in the energy industry," said Burns. "They want coal to be so expensive that we're going to stop using it and giving all these subsidies to wind farms, solar farms (and) natural gas just to hurt coal."

John Foieri, co-owner of Last Time Coal, which operates a strip mine in Zerbe Township, said their production has also not been affected but that he's witnessed the negative effects the EPA's existing regulations have had on the industry.

"It's putting us out of business," he said, pointing to the change over from coal to natural gas at the Sunbury Generation LLC in Shamokin Dam. That project is expected to be complete next year.

Foieri's business partner, Vince Guarna, agreed.

"It makes no sense to shut down our power plants and ship the coal overseas to burn it," said Guarna. "We lose jobs and have a higher price of power."

Cleaning up old sites

Like many mining operations in this area, Last Time Coal's strip mine in Zerbe Township is on the site of an older mine. The operation works to collect what has been left behind by the previous miners while repairing damage to the land.

Burns' operations are similar, and he says his projects are actually performing a valuable environmental service that would otherwise be costly to the state.

"(The coal) is being washed into the creek in places," said Burns. "We're taking that problem, cleaning up an environmental mess and getting rid of these huge waste piles."

Conrad is especially concerned for her family, which she said has struggled with past regulations that have unduly harmed their smaller operations in favor of corporate-owned entities.

"All the way around, it's a rather dark picture," she said.