Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

January 30, 2013

Bright prospects?

New predicti9ons on coal's future far from gloomy

The Independent

ASHLAND — To hear the predictions of many in this region during last fall’s presidential campaign, the re-election of Barack Obama would either destroy the coal industry in this region, or at the very least, severely cripple it. But as Obama begins his second term, the National Mining Association sees a much brighter future for coal.

Global demand for coal and other natural resources bodes well for the industry, particularly in developing countries, said NMA President Hal Quinn, adding improvements in new-home construction and car sales in the United States are also good signs. In fact, instead of demand for coal declining, Quinn says coal is on track to become the world’s primary energy source, surpassing oil by 2015.

In the United States, total coal consumption is expected to grow by 50 million tons over last year, due in part to cooler weather and natural gas prices the Energy Information Administration predicts will jump 22 percent.

Long-term, the NMA expects industry to benefit from the construction of larger, modern coal-fired power plants. It says at least 100 million tons of production lost with the retirement of old plants will eventually be recovered.

Since coal creates the best-paying jobs in this region, we hope the NMA’s predictions are accurate, but they are a far cry from the gloom-and-doom predictions that Obama is anti-coal and determined to destroy the coal industry in this country.

While low natural gas prices were making gas more economical than coal for generating electricity, rising gas prices have changed that. Of course, burning gas does not cause nearly as much damage to the environment as coal does, making it less costly to build gas-fired plants and more economical to burn than coal. That means efforts to build cleaner coal-fired plants must continue.

 However, there is one overriding reason why coal will continue to be a major source of energy in this country. It remains far more abundant than any other fossil fuel.

The Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama is going to continue to demand that coal-fired plants meet tougher environmental standards. That is sure to make coal more expensive to burn, but if one believes the National Mining Association, it will not lead to the demise of the coal industry.