Coal's Bright Future

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SEAN GALLUP / GETTY IMAGES

BLACK GOLD: A worker in Poland, now the largest producer of coal in the E.U.

For decades, the burning of coal to generate electricity has seemed destined for the dustbin of history. What good is a fuel that emits into the atmosphere twice as much carbon dioxide (CO2) — considered the worst of the greenhouse gases — as does natural gas? Britain, for instance, once hoped to reduce its reliance on [an error occurred while processing this directive] coal-generated power from around 32% to 16% by 2020 as part of its plan to cut carbon emissions by 60% by 2050.

And yet, by all indications, coal seems poised for a comeback. Thanks to high natural-gas prices,...