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Concerns Growing Over Coal's Future in Kentucky

Recent decisions by TVA and concerns from top state lawmakers have put the future of coal at the forefront.
TVA's decision to convert two coal fired units at Paradise Plant to natural gas is the latest setback for the industry. It follows the loss of nearly six-thousand mining jobs in eastern Kentucky since last year. A top state official is warning some parts of the state to look beyond coal production for economic revitalization.

In places like Centertown, coal is at the center of life. It's also the center of Tammy Lyons's family.

"I'm a coal miner's daughter, and proud of that. My dad was a miner," she recalls.

She says coal's been good to her family, and can still be good in the future.

"I see there's a big future. They shouldn't take it away from us. I don't understand. There's lots of jobs here."

But there are signs the future may not be as bright for Kentucky coal. TVA's closure of two coal fired units at Paradise Plant, along with the loss of thousands of mining jobs statewide, has many worried. In a radio interview, state Agriculture Commissioner James Comer says eastern Kentucky should look at moving beyond coal to rebuild its economy.

"But I think it's still strong for several years out," says Ohio Co. Judge Executive David Johnston.

He sees another good seven to ten years for coal in Ohio County. But measures are already being taken to keep the county going once the coal isn't.

"We've set up a business and industry panel, and we're looking to recruiting business into the county that will take us past coal whenever it does run out," he says.

As for the future of coal production, a study by the environmental group Clean Energy Action says only 9% of the coal in the Illinois Basin, which includes western Kentucky, is economically recoverable.
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