Next year's Senate campaign is already underway in West Virginia, and a leading Democratic candidate is criticizing President Barack Obama's policies on coal.
The industry has found itself in a fight for its survival. But the outlook is grim as the United States reduces its dependence on coal to the lowest level in decades.
According to government estimates, the U.S. will close a record number of coal-fired power plants over the next three years, choosing instead to use more renewable energy sources.
Coal's share of U.S. electricity generation sank to a record low of 37 percent last year, down from 50 percent in 2005 - and the future looks even bleaker.
But in places like Mingo County, W. Va., coal still pays the bills.
"That's our career, that's our hope, that's our future," coal miner Brandon Sammons said.
West Virginia is the country's second-largest coal producer. But as the demand continues to decline, thousands of miners and workers from Appalachia to Wyoming connected to the coal industry are losing their jobs.
"It's scary, it really is," one resident said. "It's something that affects everybody one way or the other. You know you go to your kids baseball games and people can't enjoy their family time, their time with their kids because the whole talk of the town is actually about a lay off or about a job shutting down. It doesn't just affect the person individually, it affects everyone."
William Raney, president of the West Virginia Coal Association, said clean coal technology isn't being given a chance.
"Improvements are absolutely remarkable," he said. "You never hear about those. You hear about the continued global warming and those kinds of things."
"It's got a long history and people rely on that history to refer to it as a dirty fossil fuel," he continued. "And you do, you get your hands black when you touch it, and it's dusty."
"But we've learned how to control the dust and you know we're getting better every day at that," Raney said. "The power plants the emissions are down so substantially with increased coal use over the last three decades."
Even so, Obama is put fighting climate change on his priority list. And according to the White House, that means coal has to go. That also means more than 5,000 coal jobs in the United States could be lost in just two years.