Industry leaders and a few state officials are saying stricter regulations are choking off the coal industry, stateline.org reported Friday.
However, "It has nothing to do with the Environmental Protection Agency regulations. It has everything to do with the shale-gas revolution," said John Hangar, a former director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
"We're not talking about a coal-less future," he said.
Some industry analysts expect tighter regulations announced by the EPA last month could, along with a switch to natural gas power plants, simply increase exports of coal to Asia and other developing regions.
Even in the United States, burning coal is not going to disappear overnight, experts say. Recently upgraded power plants could stay online for another decade or two.
"No one believes that coal will disappear in the next 10 to 20 years," said Mark Snead, an economist with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.
While industry advocates harp on the cost of new coal plant technology, the U.S. Energy Information Agency predicts the use of coal in power plants will decline 10 percent in the United States in 2012, while natural gas consumption will increase 17 percent.
Controversial technologies such as hydro-fracking and horizontal drilling are behind the shift. Some predict natural gas could meet the energy needs of the United States for as long as 100 years.
But that isn't stopping politicians from coal-producing states and trade groups from fulminating about the tighter regulations.
The latest rule change lowers the amount of acceptable toxins, including mercury, allowed to escape from coal-burning plants.
That would be "the latest convoy in EPA's regulatory train wreck that is rolling across America, crushing jobs and arresting our economic recovery at every stop," said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.