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Plans must be made for changes to coal industry

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Coal production, long our state's bedrock industry, continues to succumb to negative forces. We can continue to lament the many reasons why this is happening, but we will not be able to move forward until we accept this fact for what it is and plan accordingly. 

We can argue over whether or not political ideologues are conspiring against us, shake our heads at economic factors that are beyond our control and wring our hands over the geographic factors that, quite simply, make coal more difficult to get out of the ground than in times past. Sooner rather than later, we're going to have to start facing the facts. 

Unsurprisingly, private industry is already adjusting to market demands. Consol Energy announced this week that it is considering further reducing its coal assets to focus more on natural gas.

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Consol has made some serious investments in the natural gas market in recent years, including a $3.5 billion purchase of gas interests owned by Dominion Resources. The shale gas boom is making quite a few players rethink their business strategies. According to the article, 80 percent of Consol's revenue came from its coal operations in 2013. However, since 2008, its coal production dropped 14 percent, while its natural gas production rose by more than 100 percent. Those are some head-turning numbers and can be viewed in many different ways, but what seems to be an inescapable fact is that our economic landscape is shifting fast and we must be willing to adjust.

All this further accentuates the fact that West Virginia must diversify its economy. We are blessed with an abundance of natural resources — coal, natural gas, timber and water — but our elected leaders are failing to do all they can to move us forward. We've had a modicum of tax reform, but we need to implement a system that does not penalize reinvestment and is modeled after states such as our neighbors in Virginia that encourages growth and investment. 

The failings in our judicial systems must also be addressed. We need a legal system that puts fairness over politics. Our schools must also be upgraded. We need to empower our teachers and challenge students to make them ready for life in the 21st century. 

Our promise is such that we have to be excited, but to truly reach our potential, we need to give our people a real, lasting shot at the American Dream.