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Alabama legislature, Ivey stand up for coal during 2019 session

The Alabama legislature and Governor Kay Ivey stood up for the Alabama coal industry in two major ways during the 2019 regular session.

First, the legislature passed and the governor signed a bill sponsored by State Rep. Connie Rowe (R-Jasper) and State Sen. Gerald Allen (R-Tuscaloosa) to update the state’s archaic, WWII-era mine foreman law. This updated law puts the state on equal footing with other coal states, increasing Alabama’s economic competitiveness, and also increases safety for hardworking Yellowhammer State coal miners.

Additionally, the legislature and the governor backed coal through the now-signed Education Trust Fund budget for fiscal year 2020-2021.

This education budget includes $950,000 in funding to expand Bevill State Community College’s groundbreaking mine training facility to include longwall mining training. Bevill State is the only college in Alabama that offers Mine Technology curriculum.

“Bevill State Community College strives to set the standard of excellence for education, workforce training, partnerships and economic development in our service area. The Legislature’s support to expand the training opportunities provided by our mine training program is exemplary of government, education, and private industry working together to facilitate economic strength and development,” Dr. Kim Ennis, president of Bevill State, said in a statement.

Longwall mining is a highly productive coal mining technique. The expansion of the mine training center will enable all Underground New Miner Trainees at Bevill State to have a greater understanding of the coal extraction process from not only a continuous miner section but longwall mining as well.

Miners will also be shown the safest way to handle all aspects of assigned tasks. The focus of the training center is to instruct on how to do the job right with safety at the forefront. Protecting the health and safety of miners is the absolute top priority.

Warrior Met Coal has been a leading private sector partner with Bevill State.

“Bevill State’s mine training center is a perfect example of how much can be accomplished when the private sector and colleges are working together. The coal industry is a driving force of our state’s economy—it’s an industry that employs thousands of Alabamians—and Bevill State’s program gives young people the skills they need to earn a good living and support their families,” Senate Majority Leader Greg Reed (R-Jasper) said.

Reed is known as a staunch supporter of Alabama’s coal industry, and his leadership in the Senate was integral during the 2019 regular session.

“I was honored to work with President Ennis to help secure these funds in the state education budget for Bevill State,” Reed added. “This was an extremely busy legislative session, and the budget chairmen had a lot to weigh as they wrote the budgets, but I made sure legislators knew how important Bevill State’s mine training center is to west Alabama and the entire state. I am very excited to see how this program expands in the coming years.”

Currently, the training center, located on Bevill State’s Sumiton Campus, has a mock continuous miner section where miners are trained on the safest way to build and maintain all of the necessary equipment. The expansion will give the training center a state-of-the-art mock longwall with all of the necessary equipment and processes, including a modern classroom inside the mine.

The additions to the facility will also make the center a world-class training venue for mine rescue team scenarios.

“This funding will expand one of our State’s most successful workforce development programs. We appreciate the leadership of our legislative delegation who worked with the budget chairs and Governor Ivey to secure the resources that will make our mine training center one of the most advanced in the country,” Patrick Cagle, president of the Alabama Coal Association, commented.

Met coal exports accounted for 80% of Alabama’s total coal production in 2018, while steam coal accounted for the rest. The state has large reserves of both steam and high-quality met coal, with underground coal miners in the state enjoying a starting salary of $85,000.

The expansion of this program at Bevill State will allow for more training in an industry that currently provides high demand, lucrative job opportunities.

“Met coal is a Made in Alabama product that is quietly helping fuel our state’s economic engine,” Cagle emphasized. “The industry’s impact is irreplaceable, from the thousands of high-paying jobs at underground met coal mines in the Tuscaloosa and Jefferson County area to generating almost half the revenue at Alabama’s Port.”

The funding for Bevill State’s training program was also celebrated from the perspective of coal miners themselves.

Larry Spencer, international vice president for United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) District 20, which includes the entire state of Alabama, said, “This is exciting news.”

“The United Mine Workers of America represents over 1,500 workers at four mines across Alabama, and our number one priority is the safety of each worker,” he explained. “Bevill State’s Mine Training Center plays an essential role in Alabama’s coal economy, from the annual training offered to veteran coal miners, to the intensive training programs offered for workers just entering the field.”

He also singled out Reed for his exemplary leadership.

“Senator Greg Reed has been a champion for Alabama’s coal miners. There isn’t a better friend in state government to the coal industry than Senator Reed, and I appreciate him working to secure these resources to expand Bevill State’s Mine Training Center,” Spencer outlined.

Bevill State is a member of the Alabama Community College System (ACCS). The ACCS is focused on being Alabama’s gateway to first-class, affordable education and technical training to compete in a constantly evolving workforce.

More than 168,000 Alabamians benefit from the various certification, credential, dual enrollment and degree programs ACCS offers alongside leading industry partners.

ACCS Chancellor Jimmy Baker applauded this new offering from Bevill State, made possible by the legislature and Ivey.

Baker advised, “The Alabama Community College System is grateful for the Alabama Legislature’s support of the education and workforce training programs our colleges provide across the state.”

“Bevill State’s Mine Technology Program is a key example of our successful efforts to work directly with industry to provide valuable, real-world training that prepares our students to be job ready on day one. This additional funding will ensure that Bevill’s students continue to train on state-of-the-art equipment that mirrors the industry standard and ensures a smooth transition from classroom to industry,” he concluded.

Sean Ross is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn