Coal forged our past and can power our future

King Coal is alive, and the miracle resource and those who extract it deserve a top billing in America’s economic and energy portfolio.

Naysayers who scoff at the idea that coal has a lofty role in our energy future are not looking at the big picture, a picture as big as Pennsylvania.

And, as a lifelong resident of the commonwealth and a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, I am well-versed on matters pertaining to energy security, affordable electricity and especially how coal affects those critical issues.

Pennsylvania’s coal communities are not averse to cleaner energy. We only ask that federal mandates be based on common sense and cost efficiency to protect energy security, independence and affordability.

We should use our indigenous sources of energy like coal, natural gas and hydroelectric – as well as our established nuclear plants, and wind and solar – to reduce carbon emissions. Cleaner is better, and total carbon emissions from the U.S. coal-fired plants are declining and account only 4 percent of the global total.

It cannot be denied that the coal industry, its employees and the complementary businesses that support both are leaders in cleaner energy. Carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants were reduced in Pennsylvania by 12 percent between 2008 and 2013.

In contrast, the government of Canada boasts – boasts! – about a 5 percent reduction during the same period.

Pennsylvania’s carbon-dioxide emissions were projected to fall by over 9 percent by 2020 – without implementation of misguided federal mandates that risk jeopardizing the 36,000 industry-related jobs in Pennsylvania and the annual $4 billion contribution to the state economy.

Coal’s advantages -- its abundance and low cost -- are assets to be burnished and not disregarded.

And, no one in coal country discounts the changes underway from the emergence of natural gas and its effects on markets.

However, no one should discredit what coal has and can do for this country.

Coal is a resource deserving more respect, investment and consideration than it is now being afforded by many whose homes and businesses are heated, cooled and lighted by the very resource they disparage.

I make no apologies for believing in American exceptionalism.

I believe in the exceptionalism of coal and its employees, who powered America through the Industrial Revolution and two world wars.

I believe in the exceptionalism of American technology and know-how to take a valued resource – coal – and produce power in a safer, cleaner way.

And, most of all, I believe a more measured approach to coal and a reasonable investment in technologies that can better utilize coal in a more environmentally friendly manner is a better plan for the nation and Pennsylvania.

Working with coal rather than against it and the tens of thousands of Americans who produce low-cost and reliable energy from it is economically prudent, environmentally doable and compassionately cost-effective.

Coal is not going away – quietly or otherwise. It is not the antithesis of energy but its rootstock. Learn from it. Invest in it. Benefit from it.

It’s a big job, but we’re Pennsylvanians. We’re used to big jobs. We’re used to carrying a nation on our shoulders. We have the resources. We have the people.

Now, all we need is the will to forge a better future where we lead in all forms of energy production, including coal, and get it done.