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The proposed sites in Oregon and Washington could double U.S. coal export capacity, but not without a fight.

As evidenced by Mr. Kitzhaber’s letter, opponents of coal are no longer content to just lead the charge against the fuel’s use at home.

“If it’s a conventional fuel, they’re opposed to producing it, they’re opposed to consuming it and they’re opposed to exporting it,” said Dan Kish, senior vice president for policy at the Institute for Energy Research. “They hope to keep it here and keep it buried in the ground.”

Despite those efforts, the domestic coal market should remain strong for the foreseeable future, said Coal Council CEO Janet Gellici.

The most abundant fuel source in the U.S., coal generates more than 42 percent of the nation’s electricity. Environmental regulations and the resurgence of natural gas could change the equation in the long term, but, in the short term, coal will remain essential.

“The preference would be to use it here. It’s a domestic resource,” Ms. Gellici said. “But if you’re the CEO of a coal-producing company and you’re looking ahead, you’ve got to be” looking at foreign markets.