Despite the political rhetoric we hear this election season, even some our region's biggest advocates for coal do not expect the industry to return to its glory years.
Where coal once accounted for almost 60 percent of the electric power generation in the United States, today that figure is about 32 percent. Forecasters say that even if the U.S. Supreme Court finds unconstitutional the Clean Power Plan, which puts greater restrictions on coal-fired power plants, coal usage will continue to drop.
But coal can and should continue to play a role in the country's energy future, and our federal representatives are encouraged that the comprehensive energy bill that advanced to a House-Senate conference committee this month includes programs to improve coal's future.
"For the first time in more than a decade, Congress is considering comprehensive energy legislation that will lead to more jobs and revenue in energy-producing states like West Virginia," U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito said last week. "We are one step closer to getting this bill across the finish line and signed into law this year."
With the election in the wind, some legislative leaders are less optimistic that the work can be finished this fall, but at least some critical steps for coal have made it this far.
Those include more research and development of "clean coal" technologies such as carbon capture and storage and pipeline modernization. In particular, a provision from U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia would increase the Coal Technology Program budget about 10 percent a year to $632 million.
Efforts to jump-start alternative energy sources has been the focus of energy policy over the past decade, and wind and solar have both grown dramatically as energy sources. But even with that growth, the whole package of renewable energy sources - adding in hydro-electric and others - only accounts for 13 percent of the nation's electricity generation.
Coal and natural gas are not only more cost effective, they are still a major part of the mix, and it makes sense to invest in their potential long-term contributions. Just as importantly, cleaner coal technologies could be shared with developing nations and truly help reduce carbon emissions worldwide.
"It is crucial for America's continued success that we establish an all-of-the-above energy portfolio that utilizes all of our domestic resources," Manchin said. "We must face the fact that coal will play an integral role in producing our electricity for decades to come."
Congress needs to set an energy policy that not only protects the environment but also takes advantage of all of the nation's resources to provide affordable energy for consumers and business - and that should include coal.