Coal Industry, Utilities Ponder Future Under Obama
Bill Raney considers coal golden. After all, the black rock fuels half of the nation’s electrical generation.
But the West Virginia Coal Association’s president and others in the industry say they’ve received mixed messages about president-elect Barack Obama’s support for coal-fired power.
Obama and vice president-elect Joe Biden both have said they support finding cleaner ways to burn coal. But during the campaign, Obama told a newspaper that electricity rates could soar under his energy plan, while Biden told a voter in Ohio that “we’re not supporting clean coal” – though he has said the U.S. should develop clean coal technology and export it to China.
“It’s the frustration of uncertainty, based probably on the lack of understanding of how important a component of America’s energy structure coal is,” Raney said.
Others say they see little reason to worry. Obama comes from Illinois, ranked ninth among coal-producing states, and supported its bid for the FutureGen experimental coal-fired power plant that would store emissions of carbon dioxide underground. After the plant was awarded to Mattoon, Ill., the Bush administration walked away, citing costs that had ballooned to $1.8 billion.
What’s more, some key Democrats are from coal states. Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin is the Senate’s No. 2 Democrat. Ed Rendell, former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, is governor of Pennsylvania, a big coal producer and home to steel mills that rely on the fossil fuel.
“All of these people who are some of the strongest supporters of coal in the U.S. Congress and in the governor’s office … have supported and worked hard for President-elect Obama,” said Cecil Roberts, president of United Mine Workers, which endorsed Obama last spring. “And I don’t think he’s going to let those folks down.”
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