The central Appalachian Basin -- Southern West Virginia and Kentucky -- is feeling the change now. Alpha Natural Resources will close or downgrade 12 mines and cut 353 jobs. Patriot Coal has idled several mines and laid off 1,000 miners.
U.S. power utilities are switching rapidly to gas -- and some are suing to break longstanding coal contracts.
Appalachian Power President Charles Patton recently told Gazette editors: "Nobody is building any new coal [plants]. The economics just aren't there. Gas is just so cheap. ... I don't think anybody is going to build a coal plant, given natural gas prices. It's just economics."
By opposing the resolution, Rockefeller was standing with West Virginians, he said. And he's right.
Even if West Virginians were willing to live with sickening levels of mercury and other toxics, the rest of the country is not so shortsighted. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who also spoke against the resolution on Wednesday, said Maryland's power plants have already been upgraded to comply with emission rules. But the people of Maryland are still at risk because air does not stop blowing at the state line. Maryland residents are downwind of plants that have not been upgraded.
Pro-pollution factions in the coal industry and Congress try to pass off these EPA rules as President Obama's administration run amuck. But the EPA is doing exactly what Congress instructed it to do in the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990. The mercury rules have been in the works for more than a decade. The EPA estimates limiting mercury emissions would prevent 11,000 premature deaths, almost 5,000 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks.
The world is changing. West Virginia can stand with eyes closed, ears covered and wish for the past, or it can follow Sen. Rockefeller's lead and make a place in the future.