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by Alisa Roth

For all the talk about alternative energy sources -- wind, solar, you name it -- the U.S. and the rest of the world still depend on coal. A lot.

Ellen Smith is the owner and managing editor of Mine Safety and Health News. "Coal's not going anywhere anytime soon," she says. "Or maybe forever."

Or more to the point, she says, coal is going everywhere. Half the energy we use in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants. And both India and China are also big burners.

"We can make these alternative energy choices here in the United States, but the only way for us not to mine coal is for coal to literally be outlawed," says Smith.

And because the only way to mine coal is with people, no matter what happens, you still need mine workers.

Smith says expect lots of discussions about enforcement and mine worker safety at today's hearing. And like with the BP oil spill, lots of questions about links between regulators and the industry.

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