In Ohio, coal is responsible for some 3,000 underground and surface jobs, and generates more than 87 percent of the state's electricity. Ohio is seventh in the nation in coal reserves with 23.7 billion short tons and Belmont County is the leading coal producer in the state, churning out 760 million tons since 1816, according to the Ohio Coal Association.
Power plants that burn coal produce more than 90 times as much sulfur dioxide, five times as much nitrogen oxide and twice as much carbon dioxide as those that run on natural gas, according to the Government Accountability Office, the regulatory arm of Congress. Sulfur dioxide causes acid rain; nitrogen oxides cause smog; and carbon dioxide is a so-called greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
The EPA tightened limits on power-plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and placed new limits on mercury, a poison found in coal. That step will force some of the dirtiest and oldest coal plants to close.
Even more disconcerting for the industry is the EPA guidelines that could limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as next year.
In Ohio, Brown faces a challenge from Republican Josh Mandel, who at a recent campaign stop eagerly compared the Ohio Democrat's record on coal and energy to Manchin's. He linked Brown to the president.
"Obama is the general in the war on coal and Sherrod Brown is his lieutenant," Mandel said.
Brown defended his record in a brief interview.
"My record on energy is broad," he said. "I think as the president said, 'You look everywhere.' You start by taking away the tax breaks for the oil industry. You hear these Republicans say the president is picking winners and losers on energy and they insist on subsidizing oil, and there's no rhyme or reason to subsidize oil."
Brown wears a canary in a cage lapel pin, which he says "symbolizes to me the role of government in peoples' lives to make things better whether it's mine safety or Medicare or Social Security."
But Mike Carey, chairman of the Ohio Coal Association, doesn't see Brown as a friend of coal.
"You can have very safe miners, but if they can't mine coal, maybe they're going to be selling canaries because they're not going to be mining coal," Carey said.
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