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WSJ REPOST: Coal has improbably risen to become one of the top issues of the presidential campaign, with dueling ads about coal in swing states and attacks by each candidate on the other’s position.

The battle is escalating even though coal employment is just a shadow of what it was a few decades ago and its use in power generation is steadily declining, from 48% of U.S. electricity in 2008 to 38% in the 12 months ended July 2012. The industry retains outsize importance in part because of its operations in the contested states of Ohio, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

The candidates have turned coal into a linchpin in their different visions of America’s energy future. Mr. Romney’s energy plan calls for large increases in domestic production of fossil fuels, including coal, while seeking to roll back environmental regulations.

“Coal is an energy issue and a jobs issue,” said Ryan Williams, a Romney campaign spokesman. “We expect polls will be extremely close in states like Ohio and Virginia, and President Obama’s war on coal will have an impact on who voters select in November.”

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At Tuesday’s presidential debate, Mr. Romney said of Mr. Obama: “This has not been Mr. Oil or Mr. Gas or Mr. Coal. Coal production is not up, coal jobs are not up.” Mr. Romney has held coal-centered campaign rallies in coal country, such as southern Ohio and southwestern Virginia.

Mr. Obama countered at the debate by citing Mr. Romney’s opposition to coal during his time as Massachusetts governor, when Mr. Romney stood in front of a coal-fired power plant that he wanted closed and said, “This plant kills people.”

Mr. Obama has said he favors clean energy, especially renewables, but has been more supportive of “clean coal” during the campaign. He also boasts increased oil and gas production as part of his all-of-the-above energy plan.

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