But coal's critics say you don't have to look far to detect problems. Audits have discovered coal companies pay below-market rates to lease coal reserves, underpay royalties and are not always adequately bonded. And now companies are falling into bankruptcy in the face of a collapsing coal demand, raising the possibility that taxpayers will be on the hook for mine reclamation.
Montana rancher Steve Charter, a past president of the North Plains Resource Council, runs cattle over a mine outside Billings.
"For the past 40 years, I have had a ringside seat to personally witness the broken federal program that has allowed coal companies to take advantage of loopholes and giveaways and avoid accountability at the expense of taxpayers, land, air and wildlife," Charter said. "This deeply flawed system has not ensured mined land is reclaimed and aquifers restored. Out of a total of 562 square miles of mined land across Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and North Dakota, only 14 percent has been fully reclaimed."