Coal Gains Prominence as Election Issue

One of the few things President Bush and John Kerry agree about is the need to make America less dependent on foreign oil. In that quest for energy independence, the coal industry (search) in Appalachia is making an economic comeback.

"It's about the energy crisis, you know? Of course, we generate 52 percent of all the electricity in the country," Tom Coram of the McElroy Coal Company in Cameron, W.Va., told FOX News.

Trying to appeal for votes in coal country, the presidential candidates are placing a greater emphasis on America's abundant resource.

"Here in West Virginia, you know this. A vital part of an energy strategy is coal," Bush told supporters in July.

Kerry joined coal miners underground in April to stress that his presidency would deliver trade negotiations that benefit the American coal worker.

"We could be much more helpful to American workers to create a fair playing field, and that is what I want to do," he said.

Both candidates have promised to invest billions in clean coal technology (search), the hope being that they can win the coal vote. That vote has the extra attraction of being located in areas of great interest to the candidates.

"You look at where coal is actually based. You have West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio. All three are battleground states," said Mike Carey of Americans for Coal Jobs (search).

Carey recently launched a campaign to convince voters that a vote for Kerry is a vote for overregulation of the industry. Americans for Coal Jobs has also bought airtime for a television ad pointing to Kerry's Senate record on coal votes.

In 1999, Kerry voted against West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd's amendment to overturn a federal court's ruling to ban mountaintop mining in the state. Kerry also supports the Kyoto International Treaty, which seeks to reduce global warming. Bush has opposed the treaty.

"What it would do would be to restrict the amount of carbon dioxide that is submitted into the atmosphere, and carbon dioxide is one of the byproducts you get when you burn coal," said Tom Hoffman of CONSOL Energy.

But the largest coal mining union, the United Mine Workers of America, has endorsed Kerry, saying Democrats are more likely to maintain benefits for their workers and retirees.

"They would be good for the coal industry and coal miners and working-class people in the United States," said Cecil Roberts of United Mine Workers.

Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt.