War of words: The coal industry's big problem is not Obama

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, a graph could be worth 2,000.

Proof of that comes at a time when various Pennsylvania politicians, some of them Republican congressmen, keep shoveling rhetoric about President Barack Obama's so-called "war on coal." The attacks, designed to undermine the administration's efforts to reduce air pollution while currying favor among coal companies and coal families, conveniently ignore reality.

If indeed there was a war on Pennsylvania coal, it began in the George W. Bush administration. Consider a chart from a report called "Energy in Pennsylvania: Past, Present and Future," done for the state by the Harrisburg-based firm Commonwealth Economics LLC.

The illustration, which appeared in the Post-Gazette's Business section on Thursday, shows that coal production in the state plunged in 2001, the first year President Bush was in office, through 2003. It rebounded, then declined again beginning in 2005 through the end of the Bush years. The trend has continued during the Obama administration.

The truth is many factors shape the energy industry, and a new one is the efficient exploitation of Marcellus Shale for natural gas, now booming in Pennsylvania and other states. With its ready availability, gas has become a low-cost energy option to coal-fired power plants.

So it's not a war waged from the White House or the EPA that's putting the squeeze on coal. It's something very American, something Republican congressmen love to applaud. It's called competition.

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