Although West Virginia politicians endlessly laud the coal industry, most reports say coal is sinking relentlessly while other types of energy soar. Sadly, this trend may bring suffering to the Mountain State's mining communities.
In a major report titled "Power Surge," the Oct. 7 Time says "the United States is undergoing an energy revolution in gas, oil, wind, solar and efficiency" -- but coal is absent from the happy news.
The magazine says horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing unleashed a colossal upsurge in natural gas that may finally free America from foreign oil imports.
"The benefits are abundant," it says. "By displacing dirtier coal, cheap natural gas has helped reduce U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions even as it has boosted U.S. manufacturers that rely on gas as a feedstock."
The report says climbing U.S. oil production, plus rapid growth of wind and solar power output -- plus dramatic improvement in vehicle gas mileage and curtailment of energy waste -- could erase America's dependence on foreign oil "within a decade."
Time says human ingenuity enabled drillers to produce a bonanza of fuels. But it warns that abundance of low-cost U.S. gas and oil may cause America to rely on these fossil substances and thus continue to vent heat-trapping carbon emissions into the sky.
"The threat of climate change is very real, and we now know that we're ingenious enough to extract more than enough hydrocarbons to burn ourselves alive."
Billionaire investor Warren Buffett recently predicted that coal will retreat gradually in America's economy. The retreat is worst in the Central Appalachian field -- Southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky -- where rich seams are almost gone and only expensive, hard-to-reach coal remains.
A May report by Downstream Strategies of Morgantown confirmed that Southern West Virginia coal output fell 37 percent since 1997, and it forecast even-worse decline in the coming decade.As we've said before, it's time for West Virginia leaders to stop trying to blame the retreat of coal on federal pollution controls. Instead, they should launch intelligent planning for the altered economy that is taking shape before everyone's eyes.