Here's how you know the coal industry is all but dead

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Considering the number of bankruptcies to hit the coal industry over the past few years, there's a certain irony in the crazy rally that has seen coal prices triple in 2016. Yet despite the meteoric rise, the industry is still ailing, and moves by one heavy equipment maker even suggest it may have a terminal condition.

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A Caterpillar Inc. front loader scoops coal from a mound at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coaling towers stand at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A truck waits to be loaded with coal at the Arch Coal Inc. Sentinel Prep Plant in Philippi, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016. Arch, the St. Louis-based holder of the second-largest reserve of coal in the U.S., filed for creditor protection Monday, with an agreement to erase $4.5 billion in debt. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal spills out from a tower into a large pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal sits in a pile at an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Signage stands outside an Alpha Natural Resources Inc. coal preparation plant in Logan County near Yolyn, West Virginia, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. Alpha Natural Resources Inc. filed for bankruptcy in Virginia last week, becoming the latest victim of the coal industrys worst downturn in decades. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
PRINTER, KY - JUNE 3: CSX Transportation coal trains sit in a rail yard on June 3, 2014 in Printer, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
CATTLETSBURG, KY - JUNE 3: Caterpillar front-loading machinery operates on mounds of coal at Arch Coal Terminals June 3, 2014 in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
SHELBIANA, KY - JUNE 3: A bulldozer operates atop a coal mound at the CCI Energy Slones Branch Terminal June 3, 2014 in Shelbiana, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
CATTLETSBURG, KY - JUNE 3: A tractor trailer drives by a mound of coal after delivering a truckload of coal to Arch Coal Terminals June 3, 2014 in Cattletsburg, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
PRINTER, KY - JUNE 3: A road leads past a coal train sitting alongside the Blackhawk Mining, LLC Spurlock Prep Plant on June 3, 2014 in Printer, Kentucky. New regulations on carbon emissions proposed by the Obama administration have reportedly angered politicians on both sides of the aisle in energy-producing states such as Kentucky and West Virginia. (Photo by Luke Sharrett/Getty Images)
Coal is dropped from a conveyer belt into a pile at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency outside Price, Utah Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to call cars on trains for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer:George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images News
Coal is transported by rail after being loaded at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Caterpillar earth mover moves piles of coal at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A Caterpillar earth mover moves piles of coal at the Wildcat Coal Load-Out Terminal, owned by Intermountain Power Agency, outside Price, Utah, U.S., on Wednesday, March 5, 2014. The facility receives coal via trucks from the local mines and transfers it to railcars for transport to power generation facilities. Photographer: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Loaded Norfolk Southern coal trains sit before being unloaded at Lambert's Point Coal Terminal in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The Kentucky Mine Supply Company building stands in Harlan, Kentucky, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A CSX Corp. coal hopper car sits beside a Harlan County coal tipple in Totz, Kentucky, U.S., on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2013. In 2011, coal was used to generate 30.3 percent of the world's primary energy, the highest level since 1969, according to the World Coal Association, an industry trade group. That share slipped only to 29.9 percent last year. Photographer: Luke Sharett/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Deckhands aboard the Consol Energy Champion Coal tow boat walk along the center of the barges on the Monongahela River, during transport outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal sits inside a barge during transport down the Monongahela River by the Consol Energy Champion Coal tow boat outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S, on Wednesday, May 15, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A coal miner shines his head lamp on coal transported on a conveyor belt after being sheared off the wall during longwall mining operations at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Coal miners walk through a tunnel at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A coal miner stands in a crevice to avoid a transport car at the Consol Energy Bailey Mine in Wind Ridge, Pennsylvania, U.S., on Tuesday, May 14, 2013. Coalâs prospects are improving after its share of U.S. power generation fell last year to 34 percent, the lowest since at least 1973, Energy Department data show. Hotter temperatures this summer that prompt American households to use more air conditioning will boost demand for coal and the railroads that ship it. Photographer: Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images
In this Oct. 6, 2015 photo, Scottie Stinson, a coal miner of 16 years, works to secure the roof with bolts in an underground coal mine roughly 40-inches-high in Welch, W.Va. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dennis Ferrell, a coal miner of 15 years, watches over conveyer belts carrying coal out of the Sally Ann 1 mine Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Now employment is falling further because the world is trying to turn away from coal in hopes of protecting the environment and human health. Coal is by far the biggest source of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants among fuels used to make electricity. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In this Oct. 17, 2014 photo, an unreclaimed strip mine just across the state line from Kentucky's Harlan County stands in Virginia as seen from the Kentucky side of Black Mountain in Lynch, Ky. Most of Harlan Countyâs "big coal," seams thick enough for a worker to walk upright in, has long since been mined. According to the Energy Information Administration, most of what's left, 9.1 billion tons, can only be realistically gotten by surface or "strip" mining. Around here, the most cost-effective method is "mountaintop removal," in which the hills are blasted apart to expose the coal beneath. But stricter interpretation of clean water and other regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency and the courts in recent years has all but ended the practice. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
In this Oct. 16, 2014 photo, fog hovers over a mountaintop as a cut out of a coal miner stands at a memorial to local miners killed on the job in Cumberland, Ky. For over a century, life in Central Appalachia has been largely defined by the ups and downs of the coal industry. Through all the bust years, there was always the promise of another boom. Until now. There is a growing sense in these mountains that this downturn is different, deeper. That for a variety of reasons, economic, environmental, political, coal mining will not rebound this time. As recently as the late 1970s, there were more than 350 mines operating at any given time in Harlan County. Today, it's around 40. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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China, the linchpin as always

There's been something of a hidden campaign by China to prop up its coal industry. Goldman Sachs analysts say it has imposed production restrictions as a means of effecting a "stealth" bailout of the industry and its creditors, who might otherwise be jeopardized if the coal companies couldn't service their debt. By limiting production, it's helped drive the price of coal higher, and it sees the "bailout" lasting until at least 2020.

Bloomberg Markets says China's coal production tumbled after the government ordered miners to reduce output to the equivalent of 276 days of production, down from the previous level of 330 days. It notes that output fell 10.5% through September.

Prices have soared in response. Seaborne prices for thermal coal are running around $97 per tonne, while metallurgical coal has surged to around $250 per tonne, some three times higher than what it went for a year ago.

In addition to mine closures, new trucking regulations have created delivery backlogs that have caused transportation prices to rise accordingly.

Still, the rally has allowed Beijing to relax some of its restrictions to help meet winter demand while also encouraging mines currently under construction to complete their work and begin production.

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Photos show dirty truth behind coal mining
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Photos show dirty truth behind coal mining

Coal use in China, one of the world's largest consumers, fell two percentage points in 2015, but was still 64% of the country's energy sources. Here a villager selects coal near a mine on the outskirts of Jixi, in Heilongjiang province, China.

Source: The Guardian

(Photo via REUTERS/Jason Lee)

Coal consumption in the EU was flat last year, after declining in 2014. Below, miners leave after working the final shift at Kellingley Colliery in December 2015. Kellingley was the last deep coal mine to close in England, bringing to an end centuries of coal mining in Britain.

Source: Associated Press 

(Photo via REUTERS/Oli Scarff/Pool)

Miners working about 1,640 feet underground at the Boleslaw Smialy coal mine, a unit of the coal miner Kompania Weglowa, in Laziska Gorne, Silesia, southern Poland, on September 11.

(Photo via REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files)

Coal miners breaking their fast during the holy month of Ramadan, 2,427 feet deep inside the Stara Jama coal mine, in Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina, on July 15.

(Photo via REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Twelve-year-old Abdul Kayum from Assam pauses for a portrait while working at a coal depot carrying coal to be crushed on April 15, 2011, near Lad Rymbai, in the district of Jaintia Hills, India.

(Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

A miner waiting for a bus after leaving the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk, Ukraine, on March 4, 2015. Dozens of miners were trapped underground after a blast at the coal mine in the eastern Ukrainian rebel stronghold of Donetsk; 33 miners were killed.

Source: CNN

(Photo via REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Miners in 2014 preparing for their final working day at Hungary's last hard coal deep-cast mine at Markushegy. The underground mine, west of the capital city Budapest, stopped producing coal at the end of 2014, in line with a EU effort to shut down uncompetitive hard coal mines.

Source: Reuters

(Photo via REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh)

A laborer taking a break at a coal-dump site outside Mazar-i-Sharif, Afghanistan, in 2014.

(Photo via REUTERS/Anil Usyan)

Miner Mohammad Ismail, 25, digging in a coal mine in Choa Saidan Shah, Punjab province, Pakistan, in 2014.

(Photo via REUTERS/Sara Farid)

Workers at this mine in Choa Saidan Shah in Pakistan dig coal with pick axes, break it up, and load it onto donkeys to be transported to the surface.

(Photo via REUTERS/Sara Farid)

All in all, global demand for coal has stalled for the first time since the 1990s, according to the International Energy Agency, which expects coal's share of global power generation to fall from 41% now to 37% by 2020, even as use rises in India and Southeast Asia. Here, a worker carries a container filled with drinking water at a railway coal yard on the outskirts of the western Indian city of Ahmedabad.

Source: Associated Press

(Photo via REUTERS/Amit Dave)

Hundreds of coal-powered plants are slated for retirement in the US, where coal's share of energy generation was 36% in 2015, down from 50% 10 years prior. Here, coal miners enter a mine for the start of an afternoon shift near Gilbert, West Virginia.

Source: Bloomberg

(Photo via REUTERS/Robert Galbraith)

Workers unload coal from a truck into a stock field in Cigading harbour in Cilegon, Banten province, in 2010. Domestic coal consumption has risen in Indonesia in recent years, jumping 15% to 87.43 million metric tons in 2015.

(Photo via REUTERS/Dadang Tri)

Steve Torgersen, a Norwegian mining expert, showing the size of a fossil footprint of a hippopotamus-like creature, a pantodont, on the roof of a coal mine on the Norwegian Arctic island of Spitsbergen in 2007.

(Photo via REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)

A coal miner registering the quantity of coal produced by each miner on an improvised chalkboard inside an artisanal mine, or "pocito," at the town of Nueva Rosita, Mexico, in 2008. The mines, called "pocitos," or "little holes," are known for their rudimentary and often dangerous mining techniques.

(Photo via REUTERS/Tomas Bravo)

Rescuers carrying a miner who sustained injuries after a mine explosion to an ambulance in Soma, a district in Turkey's western province of Manisa, about 75 miles northeast of the Aegean coastal city of Izmir, in 2014. In Turkey's worst mining disaster in decades, "a fire broke out [and] one of the pits was engulfed with carbon monoxide. It was Turkey's worst ever industrial accident: 301 miners died, some burnt alive, others suffocating," according to the BBC.

Source: BBC

(Photo via REUTERS/ Osman Orsal)

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The new abnormal

The price surge isn't expected to see other miners jump-start currently idled projects. Teck Resources(NYSE: TCK), the largest product of met coal in North America, said on its third-quarter earnings conference call that although conditions could see prices remain elevated, this was not some "new normal" for coal. CEO Don Lindsay said on the call, "The management teams will typically not make any significant investment decisions based on a few weeks of prices."

That could be why one heavy equipment maker figures now is the time to get out of supplying the coal mining industry with its specialized equipment. Delivering its own quarterly earnings report last week, Caterpillar(NYSE: CAT) reiterated that as part of the major restructuring and consolidation of its operations it has been engineering over the past year, it was looking to sell its room and pillar equipment.

Room Pillar Mining Coal Joy Global

While Caterpillar may want to sell off its room and pillar mining equipment, there may be others willing to sell into the industry. Image source: Joy Global.

A strategic exit from the market

Room and pillar mining is fairly unique to the coal industry and is the process by which material is extracted in horizontal sections, the "rooms," that leave a series of columns, or "pillars" holding up the structure.

While also used in iron and copper mining, it is especially prevalent in the U.S. Appalachian coal industry, and Caterpillar's decision to exit the market -- it also says it's contemplating just shutting down the manufacturing facility -- indicates it believes there's little room for profitable growth here.

Caterpillar first announced its intent to pursue strategic alternative for the division back in August, saying divesting the business "will allow us to focus resources on those areas of the business that provide the highest sustainable growth and best long-term returns." It's also stopped taking orders for new equipment.

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NTP: Coal losing its grip in West Virginia
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NTP: Coal losing its grip in West Virginia
The town of Welch, W.Va., in McDowell County is seen on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. About the only flat land to build anything among the jumble of mountains in Southern West Virginia is in the hollows traced by small rivers, and that land sits in dangerous flood plains. This unavoidable geography has hampered efforts to diversify the economy, despite decades of effort. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Garnet Edwards Jr. walks on a street while volunteering for a nonprofit community organization in the business district on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. "There's no place like home. We're always going to be here," said Edwards, a native of Welch. "All it takes is one person to keep caring." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 31 years, takes a break while operating a continuous miner machine in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. For more than a century, the coal seams that run through Appalachia have made the steel used to build U.S. cities and the electric power to light them. As technology has improved, though, it has taken fewer and fewer workers to mine that coal. West Virginia coal employment peaked at around 130,000 miners in 1940 and is now under 20,000. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Scott Tiller, a coal miner of 31 years, operates a continuous miner machine in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Most of the job losses happened long before coalâs latest downturn. Mechanization began slashing the number of workers needed to mine coal in the 1960s, and then a collapse in the U.S. steel industry in 1980s further decimated minersâ ranks. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mark Muncy carries drinks to customers at the Riverside Cafe and Bakery Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Muncy worked in the coal industry for years before losing his job when the mine he worked at closed in 2013. His daughter Ashleigh loved to bake, so he raised some money, got a government-backed economic development loan, and in June he opened the Riverside Cafe and Bakery which he runs with his family in Welch. âI didnât know what else to do,â he said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Foreman John Dillon, a coal miner of 39 years, walks past piles of coal at the Sewell "R" coal mine Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Yukon, W.Va. In the U.S., where natural gas has become a cheaper alternative to coal to generate electricity, miners are facing an especially difficult market: Four major U.S. coal companies have filed for bankruptcy protection in the last 18 months. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Superintendent Jackie Ratliff, a coal miner of 25 years, holds coal running through a processing plant Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Central Appalachiaâs struggle is familiar to many rural regions across the U.S., where middle-class jobs are disappearing or gone and young people have no other choice than to leave to find opportunity. But the problems are amplified in coal country, where these difficult economic and social conditions have gripped the region for decades and where there is hardly any flat land to build anything. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Donnie Coleman, chief safety director and a coal miner of nearly 40 years, crawls into a buggy that transports miners while laying down through a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. The seams of coal in the mine are so thin workers can barely squeeze down them. They enter on carts nearly flat on their backs, the roof of the mine coursing by just a few inches in front of their faces. They donât stand up all day. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Scottie Stinson, a coal miner of 16 years, works to secure the roof with bolts in a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. The one main source for decent-paying work, the brutal life of coal, seems to be drying up for good. The thick, easy, cheap coal is gone, global competition is fierce, and clean air and water regulations are increasing costs and cutting into demand. But this crisis and the realization that there wonât be another coal boom in these parts is leading to a growing understanding that new approaches are needed to help Central Appalachia emerge from decades of deep poverty, under-education and poor health. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Eddie Asbury looks out over piles of coal sitting waiting to be shipped at one of his processing plants Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. To keep his business operating with such a paltry amount of coal, Asbury has to do everything himself. His equipment is secondhand stuff that he repairs and refurbishes. The coal he and his workers scrape out of the mountain is washed and prepared for sale in a plant Asbury and a colleague built themselves. âItâs how we survive,â says Asbury, 66, a miner since 1971. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A pedestrian stands on a street corner as a message is displayed in a storefront window along the business district, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. West Virginia is the only state in the country where more than half of adults are not working, according to the Census Bureau. It is tied with Kentucky for the highest percentage of residents collecting disability payments from Social Security, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And the death rate among working-age adults is highest in the nation, 55 percent higher the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Superintendent Jackie Ratliff, a coal miner of 25 years, walks towards a pile of coal waiting to be shipped at a processing plant Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Central Appalachiaâs struggle is familiar to many rural regions across the U.S., where middle-class jobs are disappearing or gone and young people have no other choice than to leave to find opportunity. But the problems are amplified in coal country, where these difficult economic and social conditions have gripped the region for decades and where there is hardly any flat land to build anything. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Donnie Coleman, chief safety director and a coal miner of almost 40 years, crawls through a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Miners spend their shifts reclined in their mining machines, crouched and crawling through darkness and the thick, black muck made from coal dust and the water sprayed to keep the dust down. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dennis Ferrell, a coal miner of 15 years, watches over conveyer belts carrying coal out of the Sally Ann 1 mine Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Now employment is falling further because the world is trying to turn away from coal in hopes of protecting the environment and human health. Coal is by far the biggest source of carbon dioxide and airborne pollutants among fuels used to make electricity. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mine foreman and electrician Randall Wright looks at mountains while working at the Sewell "R" coal mine Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Yukon, W.Va. Wright was making $35 an hour up until last year before he had to take a job at $15 an hour or face unemployment. "It's really hurting us," Wright said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A mural depicting a more vibrant time in the town's history decorates a building in the business district, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Poverty experts say these efforts helped relieve the most acute conditions, but did little else. As coal employment declined, people fled because there was little else for them to do. McDowell County, home to Welch, had a population of just under 100,000 in 1950. Since then, the countyâs population has fallen by four-fifths, to around 20,000. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Scottie Stinson, a coal miner of 16 years, crawls through a coal mine roughly 40-inches-high while securing the roof with bolts, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. Coal will not go completely away anytime soon, itâs the cheapest way to bring electricity to the 1.3 billion people who lack access to it, and even developed nations will still need to burn it as they transition to cleaner fuels. The carbon in coal will still be needed to mix with iron to make steel. But there is so much more coal than the world needs that only the cheapest global producers will survive. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Dr. Donovan âDinoâ Beckett stands in the Williamson Health and Wellness Center, a clinic he started to encourage treatment of underserved populations and address the extremely high rates of diabetes patients in the county, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Williamson, W.Va. Central Appalachia is not out of ideas, though, and it has not given up. Grass-roots approaches like Beckettâs clinic to improve health, an apprentice program designed to give high school kids a better chance at a good job, and even a small-but-determined coal operation show how Central Appalachia may slowly begin to remake itself. âWe still have a lot of diabetes patients, but now we have a lot of well-controlled diabetes patients,â Beckett said. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Sepress Gilkerson, left, an unemployed coal miner, looks at food stamps paperwork as he leaves an unemployment office with his son Matt, 18, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. âItâs kind of depressing to work all those years and then go to nothing," said Gilkerson. "Iâve had to go on food stamps, itâs embarrassing to say. Thereâs nothing for us to find here." (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Glen Wilson, from left, Jeremy Smith and James Likens learn solar panel installation on the roof of the Coalfield Development Corp. during a class on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Huntington, W.Va. Miners wonât disappear completely from from coal country, despite the regionâs dark future. The coal they mine is high-quality stuff, used for making steel, not electricity. It may even be used to build the frames for solar panels that the students have learned to install, and that could further reduce demand for coal used for electricity. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
With reclaimed wood in the foreground, Glen Wilson crawls onto the roof of the Coalfield Development Corp. for a class on installing solar panels on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Huntington, W.Va. The program hires graduates of high school vocational programs to restore, repurpose or tear down old buildings, use old building materials to make furniture, or build new homes on reclaimed coalfield land. Employees also are also required to take six hours of community college courses a week and three hours of life skills classes that help them with things like money management and healthy eating. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Mark Muncy, left, greets customers with his daughter Ashleigh at the Riverside Cafe and Bakery, Monday, Oct. 5, 2015, in Welch, W.Va. The restaurant is bringing in three times what Muncyâs loan officer predicted he would and heâs had to hire three people. Ashleighâs original plan was to keep her job at the local supermarket and bake on the side, but her baking just got too popular. Some of Ashleighâs biggest fans: the regionâs remaining miners who come early in the morning and ask her to wrap the pizza rolls individually so they can eat them for lunch down in the mine. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
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Making the hard decisions

The heavy equipment maker says it still sees mining "as an attractive long-term industry," both above and underground, but it's obviously prioritizing which industries are best. Shedding the room and pillar business means coal mining is not one of them.

Arch Coal may have risen from the ashes of bankruptcy to trade once more on the New York Stock Exchange and, unburdened by its massive debt, may be able to operate more efficiently than it did previously, but the coal industry is on the decline, and Caterpillar's decision may see its end coming sooner rather than later.

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NTP: Future of coal, China climate change
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NTP: Future of coal, China climate change
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, a worker takes a break at an idled coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Nov. 3, 2015 photo, smoke and steam rise from the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Chinaâs polluted air is still largely hazardous to health, and officials wonât even guess when air will finally reach levels that could be considered healthy. But some experts, officials and observers see this year's improvement as the start of a long-term upward trend in air quality resulting from central and local government measures to lower pollution. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, steam and smoke rises from the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, workers shovel coal atop a trailer truck at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, workers pull protective fabric over a pile of coal at an idle coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, a worker walks through the loading area at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, a loader picks up a load of coal from a pile at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, a worker guides a conveyor as it loads coal into a trailer truck at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2015 photo, workers shovel coal as a conveyor loads coal into a trailer truck at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, a Chinese flag moves in the breeze as a loader moves coal at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, a loader scrapes coal at an open-pit coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, a worker watches as a conveyor loads coal onto a trailer truck at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, vehicles work at an open-pit coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, a worker monitors coal being carried along conveyor ramps at a coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015 photo, vehicles work at an open-pit coal mine near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Demand for coal is leveling off, but it will remain a key energy source for decades, and its future is closely tied to China, the worldâs biggest coal user, producer and importer. It burns 4 billion tons of coal a year, four times as much as the United States. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
In this Nov. 3, 2015 photo, smoke and steam rise from the smokestack of a coal-fired power plant near Ordos in northern China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Chinaâs polluted air is still largely hazardous to health, and officials wonât even guess when air will finally reach levels that could be considered healthy. But some experts, officials and observers see this year's improvement as the start of a long-term upward trend in air quality resulting from central and local government measures to lower pollution. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
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