"We must do more with our efforts to invest in technology and make coal much cleaner if we are going to secure a strong future for our coal miners and their livelihoods, families and communities," Rockefeller said.
The GAO said that the nation's coal-fired energy sector could become "less polluting" in the future, as power companies install controls on many remaining units.
"Regarding new coal-fueled units, these are likely to be less polluting as they must incorporate advanced technologies to reduce emissions of regulated pollutants," the GAO said. "Coal-fired capacity may decline in the future as less capacity is expected to be built than is expected to retire."
At the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the GAO moved sections of the report discussing coal's market challenges to the "highlights" section of the report.
"EPA stated that market changes, which we discuss in the report, would have significant impacts even in the absence of EPA's regulations," the GAO said. "We do not agree that the report was misleading, but given that the Highlights page may be read without the benefit of the fuller discussion found in the report, we moved language from the body of the report to the Highlights page about other factors affecting the use of coal."
The GAO also said there are significant questions about the Appalachian coal industry's hope that increased coal exports can help make up for the decline in coal's share of the U.S. electricity market.
"Available information suggests that the future level of U.S. coal exports will also depend on how competitive U.S. coal prices are internationally and the extent to which the quality of coal available from the United States is in demand," the GAO said. "For example, metallurgical coal -- coal used for such activities as steel production -- has historically constituted a significant share of U.S. coal exports.
"Factors affecting the ability of other coal-exporting countries to economically and reliably supply coal to international customers include local freight rates, limits on the amount of exports, and extreme weather events -- all of which can influence the relative price of U.S. coal and, thus, the amount of U.S. coal exported," the GAO said.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.