CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On West Virginia Day, Jay Rockefeller stood up in the U.S. Senate and told the truth: "The shift to a lower-carbon economy is not going away, and it's a disservice to coal miners and their families to pretend that it is."
Sen. Rockefeller spoke on Wednesday against a resolution of disapproval offered by climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. The resolution was a step toward overturning emission limits for mercury and other toxics at coal-fired power plants. The rules were issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December. The resolution failed 46-53.
West Virginians should take Rockefeller's words to heart.
Rockefeller criticized those in the coal industry who spend a fortune whipping up fear in coal mining communities instead of planning for their own future.
"West Virginians understandably worry that a way of life and the dignity of a job is at stake. Change and uncertainty in the coal industry is unsettling," Rockefeller said.
But pretending that the world is not changing is no answer.
The era of coal as America's supreme energy source is passing. It will be eclipsed by cheap natural gas loosed by new methods of horizontal drilling and "fracking." The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that coal will produce less than 40 percent of U.S. electricity this year, and its share will fade to 30 percent by 2020. Meanwhile, gas will generate 29 percent this year, and presumably exceed coal by 2020.