"Some people may want to look at coal as a fuel of the past, but it still has to be looked at as part of any national energy strategy," Tennant said. "There's absolutely no reason we can't figure out a way to sequester carbon and make it work commercially."
Tennant said she supports more federal funding for research and development of greenhouse gas controls for power plants, but did not mention whether she favors or opposes a federal mandate for emissions reductions -- a requirement most experts say is needed to push utilities to install those emissions controls.
Like Kessler, Tennant also spoke strongly in favor of the state trying to continue the boom in Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and production, but said more needs to be done to ensure the jobs that are created go to West Virginians.
Kessler, though, said he doesn't mind if workers move to West Virginia to take those jobs, as long as they buy homes, raise children and pay taxes here, and help reverse the state's long-term population decline.
"That's exactly what we need," Kessler said. "We need more people. We especially need more young people."
Kessler's home county remains the state's largest coal producer, and West Virginia's northern coalfields are expected to fare better in coming years than operators in the southern part of the state.
And in his speech, Kessler said that coal mining certainly isn't going to end overnight. But he noted the overall decline in both coal and steel and said state leaders need to stop simply trying to fight for industries that will never again be as big as they once were.
"You can have all of the 'Stand up for Steels' and 'Wars on Coal' that you want, but they're not coming back," Kessler said. "I don't think that's realistic."
In each of the last two years, Kessler introduced legislation to divert a portion of the increased tax revenues to a fund set aside to help economic diversification efforts. But Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has not voiced any serious support for the proposal, many industry officials have remained wary of it, and lawmakers haven't gone along with the idea.
Kessler said he's hoping to get more support this year, after taking a delegation of West Virginia lawmakers to North Dakota to study that state's version of a future fund.
"That's not conservative," Kessler said of setting aside money for future diversification needs. "That's not liberal. That's just financial sense."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.