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Campaigns Focus on Ohio Coal...But How Much Can a President Help the Industry?

Coal's role in this year's presidential election isn't going ignored by national media. Marketplace Morning Report had an interesting story this morning by Adriene Hill about the fuel's prominent role in President Obama and Mitt Romney's Ohio campaign strategies...even though there are less than 3,000 coal miners in the state. As the industry is always quick to point out, that doesn't include jobs that are related to and reliant on the coal industry. Regardless, Hill notes that the National Mining Association estimates that less than one percent of Ohio's GDP comes from coal mining.But the reality is that no matter who is elected in November, there's a limited amount a president can help the coal industry. Romney wants to cut anti-pollution regulations that affect coal burning power plants while Obama hypes clean coal technology. But neither one will keep the coal industry out of trouble it’s in today. “People point to regulation for a lot more than regulation can actually explain,” says Council of Foreign Relations  fellow Michael Levi. He says the real reason coal is in bad shape is because of the glut of cheap natural gas. “Power producers go out there and they say, 'I have a coal plant and I have a gas plant. I can put cheap natural gas in my gas plant, or I can put coal in my coal plant. The better deal for me financially is to use the natural gas.' That means there is lower coal demand," he explains.Environmental regulations do play a part--if the country's infrastructure is redesigned to eliminate coal, that will make it near-impossible for the industry to regain its market share. As Hill notes, analysts say coal's best bet may be to focus on export markets.

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