"The president has made clear that coal has an important role to play in our energy economy today and it will in the future, which is why this administration has worked to make sure that moving forward we can continue to rely on a broad range of domestic energy sources from oil and gas, to wind and solar, to nuclear, as well as clean coal," Clark Stevens, a White House spokesman, said recently.
What's happening in the coal industry is more than a seasonal slump or a response to new regulations; even coal executives admit it's a fundamental shift. Many utilities have switched from coal to cheaper natural gas for electricity generation, pushing up coal stockpiles at power plants and forcing mining companies to sharply cut production.
When St. Louis-based Patriot Coal filed for bankruptcy in July, it didn't mention a war on coal but cited "a major correction" in the industry and "new realities in the market," including fierce, sustainable competition of natural gas. But St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. blamed market pressures and a challenging regulatory backdrop in its June announcement it would lay off about 750 Appalachian coal workers.
A recent rebound in natural gas prices has buoyed hopes among coal producers that power plants increasingly will shift back to coal, though they say pressure on the industry could persist well into next year.
Murray Energy was the parent company of a Utah coal mine that collapsed in 2007, killing six miners and three members of a rescue team. Earlier this year, Murray Energy affiliates paid nearly $1 million in safety fines for the disaster and settled a criminal case for $500,000.