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Opinion: Coal's decline

Opinion: Coal's decline


June 20th, 2012 in News

The Independent, Ashland, Ky., on coal's decline:

America is shoveling coal to the sidelines, reported a story by Associated Press energy writer Jonathan Fahey. If he's right - and he certainly had the statistics to show that America's use of coal to produce its electricity is rapidly declining - then it does not bode well for the future of this region which relies so heavily on the production of coal.

Despite all the environmental problems caused by coal - both in getting it out of the ground and in burning it to produce electricity - it creates the vast majority of high-paying jobs in their region and fuels the economy of many rural counties where non-coal jobs are scarce and mostly low paying. Simply put, when coal jobs disappear in this region, there simply are no other comparable jobs available to replace them. A coal miner earning more than $50,000 a year can suddenly find himself either working at a minimum wage job - or not at all. ...

While coal use is declining, natural gas use is rising. Natural gas will be used to produce 29 percent of the country's electricity this year, up from 20 percent in 2008. Nuclear accounts for 20 percent. Hydroelectric, wind, solar and other renewables make up the rest.

The shift from coal is reverberating across Appalachia, where mining companies are laying off workers. ...

Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, says the shift from coal to gas was accelerated by the low price of natural gas. That, along with tougher environmental rules and alternatives such as wind and solar will keep the pressure on coal. "We won't go backwards," he says.

And so the fight continues. It should not be a choice between saving the environment or saving jobs. Instead, we must find a way to preserve jobs without leveling our mountains, burying our streams and polluting our air. An impossible task? Well, it won't be easy but it is the best hope of keeping coal an important source of energy.