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Coal policy talk picks up on the campaign trail and in Congress

Coal'sfuture in the U.S. energy mix came into sharper focus on the campaign trailthis week, while in Congress efforts were made by both Democrats andRepublicans to ensure the fuel's survival.

TheRepublican National Committee on July 11 voted to the word "clean" to thediscussion of the need for coal in the party's platform, following an absenceahead of the last presidential election. The addition echoes the party's presumptive , Donald Trump, who hasadvocated "clean coal" use in campaign speeches. But the move drew asharp retort from environmentalists.

Thevote came as coalcompany political action committees and industry advocates continue to fund Republican candidates with fewexceptions, with two moving significant attention to state-level races.

InCongress, a pair of Democratic senators teamed up to support continued coal usein the U.S. with the introductionof a bill aimed at expanding tax breaks and eligibility for companies pursuingcarbon capture and storage projects. Mining interests, however, said thecurrent regulatory environment made it difficult to make any progress ondevelopment of the technology.

In a July 12 talk hosted by the American Coal Council, former executive FredPalmer called for astronger partnership with the U.S. government to ensure "21st century coal"in the post-election landscape. Palmer pushed for greater federal support forcoal technologies that will allow lower emissions from power generation toensure industry longevity.

Meanwhile,Republicans and the administration continue to clash over spending billsas changes to thefederal coal-leasing program remain a sticking point in the U.S. Department ofInterior spending bill. The agency appropriations bill by the U.S. House ofRepresentatives includes a section that would eliminate the review of thefederal coal leasing program and disallow any spending towards making possibleroyalty rate changes. The White House has threatened a veto.

Globaldemand for coal, especially in Southeast Asia, will improve slightly in thenext few years, but will peak around the mid-2020s, experts said July 12 at anenergy conferencehosted by the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Some said, however, thatU.S. coal exporters would benefit little.

Domestically,weekly coal rail deliveries sloweddown after five straight weeks of gains. Production cuts enactedsince the beginning of the year could make 2016 the year with the largest U.S.production decline since the beginning of record keeping in 1949.

InWest Virginia coal country, things are especially grim. West VirginiaUniversity's latest look at its state's coal forecast a grim future for the industry'sshort- and long-term prospects. The report is projecting West Virginia's 2016production to fall to 68 million tons. That is down from 158 million tons in2008 and 95 million tons in 2015.

Oneanalyst this week predictedthat if current coal production rates and natural gas prices hold roughlylevel, the price-crushing oversupply of utility coal stockpiles could return tonormal levels by the summer of 2017.

this week moved closer to emergingfrom bankruptcy, announcing dealswith the United Mine Workers of America and the state of West Virginia overreclamationobligations. The company is still facing resistance from federal mining regulators over plans tosettle reclamation obligations in Wyoming.

, another coalminer navigating bankruptcy, this week asked a court for time to gain approval of itsreorganization plan.

Lastly, Chairman andCEO Garry Neil Drummond diedJuly 13 at the age of 78. Drummond had been with the company for more than 50years and was praised as an exemplary leader and a great visionary.