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The war on coal is over. Coal lost.

Alternative Energy

Last week, Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced, “the war on coal is over.” If there ever was a war on coal, the coal industry has lost. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, many old American coal power plants are being retired or converted to natural gas, and new coal power plants aren’t being built because they’ve become more expensive than natural gas, wind, and solar energy:

The share of US electricity coming from coal fell from 51 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2016—an unprecedented change. New UCS analysis finds that, of the coal units that remain, roughly one in four plans to retire or convert to natural gas; another 17 percent are uneconomic and could face retirement soon.

Natural gas has now surpassed coal to supply 32% of US electricity (up from 21% in 2008), and solar and wind are up to 10% (from 3% in 2008).

Evolution of the American power grid mix since 1960.
Evolution of the American power grid mix since 1960. Illustration: Carbon Brief

This trend will continue. As old coal plants continue to retire and be replaced by cheaper renewables and natural gas, their share of the US electricity supply will continue to plummet, and coal will become a fossil fuel in every sense of the word. That’s why American companies continue to invest in cheap, clean renewable energy. As a result, our air and water are becoming cleaner, Americans are becoming healthier, and our carbon pollution is falling.

The shift away from coal poses a challenge for regions in which the local economy depends on the fossil fuel, but the transition is inevitable. A wise economic policy would involve funding programs to help those regions adapt to the change (Hillary Clinton proposed one such plan during her presidential campaign). A recent study showed that Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax with some of the revenue going to assist displaced coal workers. The Trump administration has instead opted to try and slow coal’s inevitable decline.

Trump is desperate to burn more coal

The Trump administration seems hell-bent on causing as much global warming as possible. First there was the historically irresponsible decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, joining war-torn Syria as the only world countries to reject the treaty. Then just a few weeks ago, Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry announced a plan to effectively take coal out of the free market and instead subsidize it with taxpayer dollars to bail out the industry and keep uneconomical coal power plants open. The hypocrisy ran thick – as Perry called for propping up the coal industry with increased taxpayer subsidies, Pruitt called for an end to subsidies for renewable energy:

I would do away with these incentives that we give to wind and solar. I’d let them stand on their own and compete against coal and natural gas and other sources, and let utilities make real-time market decisions on those types of things as opposed to being propped up by tax incentives and other types of credits that occur

Soon thereafter, Priutt announced that Trump’s EPA will repeal the Clean Power Plan. That policy represented America’s most significant effort to cut its carbon pollution, but had been mired in a legal battle over whether the plan exceeded EPA’s regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act. Rather than let the courts decide the case, which many experts felt the EPA would win, Pruitt stopped defending the case in court and ended the program.

The problem is that according to the US Supreme Court, the EPA is legally required to regulate dangerous carbon pollution. Pruitt’s EPA may propose a dramatically weakened plan that probably wouldn’t survive a court challenge, or he may just try to run out the clock on Trump’s term. As with the disastrous Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, they don’t have a replacement plan. In the meantime, states and environmental groups will take his Clean Power Plan repeal to court.

Pruitt’s Clean Power Plan repeal justification is largely based on bogus economics, which the Trump administration is using to reduce government estimates of the ‘social cost of carbon.’ This figure – which estimates how much a ton of carbon pollution costs society in terms of damages caused by climate change – is integral to many government policies. A majority of economists think the government’s estimate is too low, but Pruitt’s EPA manipulated the math by ignoring the costs of America’s carbon pollution to the rest of the world, and by using a high discount rate, which essentially says we care more about saving money now than preventing climate damages and suffering for future generations.

However, because renewables and natural gas are now cheaper than coal, an analysis by the Rhodium Group found that the US will meet the Clean Power Plan target of cutting carbon pollution from electricity generation 32% below 2005 levels by 2030 despite its repeal.

US power sector carbon dioxide emissions projections without the Clean Power Plan in place.
US power sector carbon dioxide emissions projections without the Clean Power Plan in place. Illustration: Rhodium Group

That being said, with the Clean Power Plan in place, the US likely would have beat its targets. As this excellent tool created by Carbon Brief shows, many states like California and Idaho are ahead of the curve, but other states like Texas and West Virginia would have been forced to accelerate their transitions to clean energy, had the Clean Power Plan been enforced.

The ball is in Congress’ court

The good news is that none of the Trump administration’s moves are permanent. The next president can rejoin the Paris climate agreement, have the EPA draft new rules to regulate power plant carbon pollution, and revise the social cost of carbon based on real science and math. As Citizens’ Climate Lobby Executive Director Mark Reynolds wrote:

Those who cheer the EPA’s move should remember that President Obama initiated the Clean Power Plan in 2015 in the face of Congress’s inaction on climate change. Without effective legislation to combat climate change, a future president could just as easily go down the path of executive action and regulations again. The best answer here is for Congress to pass legislation putting the market to work on solving climate change.

There’s been some movement in this direction. A group of Republican elder statesmen in the Climate Leadership Council called for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, which would grow the economy. Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) recently called for a price on carbon pollution and is said to be working with Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) on climate legislation. The House Climate Solutions Caucus is now up to 30 Republican and 30 Democratic members and is trying to craft a bipartisan replacement for the Clean Power Plan.

The Trump administration is taking every possible step to burn away our future, but fortunately the transition to a clean energy economy is unstoppable, and many of his party members are coming to grips with that reality.

the guardian

33 Comments on "The war on coal is over. Coal lost."

  1. baha on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 7:38 am 

    Ha,ha, What did I say?

    Coal is a dying industry…now I have to go to work…building your future 🙂

  2. Jef on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 7:52 am 

    These developments are on par with the claim that the US has reduced emissions. The US has only outsourced their emissions to other countries, (along with whole industries and jobs).

    For every coal plant closing in the US there are a dozen more starting up elsewhere.

    But then I guess it is only what happens in the US that matters like mass murders. The US executes the mass murder of hundreds of civilians a week in the MENA but you don’t hear anyone talking about taking away the guns from those perps do ya?

  3. dave thompson on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 8:08 am 

    World coal consumption dropped by 1.7% last year according to this.

    I say so what? When you look at total world consumption it is a drop in the bucket

  4. Apneaman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 9:51 am 

    War on coal over. War on humans just begun.

    Devastating California wildfires predicted to cost US economy $85 billion; Containment may take weeks

    ““We estimate the California wildfires will profoundly affect the economy of California. The cost to contain and fight the fire and deal with the aftermath will be in the billions. And, the loss in tax revenue from businesses no longer around, including the vineyards; the workers who have lost their jobs and can no longer pay taxes as well as other impacts will be quite costly. This will create a hole in the California budget, which may necessitate an increase in taxes. If California has to borrow more this might negatively impact its bond ratings and it will have to pay higher interest rates on all borrowings, which can cost upwards of 10s of billions of dollars. At this time, we estimate the economic impact of the fires is already approaching $70 billion dollars. Based on our forecast the total costs from this disaster on the economy would exceed $85 billion and, if the fires are not contained in the next couple of weeks, the total economic impact could even reach $100 billion.”

  5. JMAN-CHEMENGR on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 10:12 am 

    30% of US Electricity Production is Losing??? Coal drops and natural gas rises to fill the gap in generation, but coal lost? If coal lost, natural gas is winning.

  6. Apneaman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 10:17 am 

    Industrial civilization = Buy now. Pay later. It’s later.

    Ophelia became a major hurricane where no storm had before

    “I really can’t believe I’m seeing a major just south of the Azores.”

    “Forecasters marveled at the intensification of Ophelia on Saturday, as it reached Category 3 status on the Saffir-Simpson scale and became a major hurricane. For a storm in the Atlantic basin, this is the farthest east that a major hurricane has been recorded during the satellite era of observations. Additionally, it was the furthest north that a major hurricane, at 35.9 degrees north, that an Atlantic major hurricane existed this late in the year since 1939.”

    “Ophelia is breaking new ground for a major hurricane,” National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake wrote on Twitter. “Typically those waters much too cool for anything this strong.” He also added, “I really can’t believe I’m seeing a major just south of the Azores.” Seas near where Ophelia intensified Saturday were 1-2° C degrees above normal.”

    Storm Ophelia turns deadly while battering southern Ireland

    Flights cancelled, power knocked out across coast by former hurricane

  7. Apneaman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 10:21 am 

    At least 30 killed as Ophelia winds fan wildfires in Portugal and Spain

  8. Apneaman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 10:28 am 

    Climate change blamed as EU’s forest fires more than double

  9. Sissyfuss on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 11:57 am 

    The reptilian-brained Repugs cannot break free from their growth and profit paradigms. It could be 100° in DC in December and they will claim it to be a brief and pleasant interlude to allow more convenient access to the shopping malls. They are cooking our goose to a burnt crisp.

  10. Revi on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 1:33 pm 

    I can’t believe that they are proposing having tax dollars subsidize coal while taking away health care from millions of people. What is wrong with them?

  11. Twocats on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 2:09 pm 

    Let’s see how badly coal does when 1) oil production begins decline. 2) subsidized frank gas fizzles.

  12. rockman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 3:20 pm 

    “If there ever was a war on coal, the coal industry has lost.” LMFAO!!! According to the fed bean counters :

    “U.S. coal production has increased by 14.5 percent over last year with increases of 19 percent or higher in West Virginia, Virginia and Wyoming, while exports were lifted by 58 percent in the first quarter of this year.”

    I can’t find the link right now but the govt report a 19% increase during just the FIRST 5 MONTHS of 2017. That calculates out as a 45% annual rate of increase if it holds.

    And none of President Trump’s promised changes in policy have yet to have an effect on the coal industry. Actually I doubt any of the POTUS’s efforts will have nearly as much effect on coal as the market place. Of course that won’t stop him from trying to take credit or the liberals blaming him.

    A win-win for both sides as they see it. LOL.

  13. Boat on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 3:50 pm 


    “The reptilian-brained Repugs cannot break free from their growth and profit paradigms”.

    Any product needs growth and profit to get to scale. Your argument is old and stale.

    Cheeto will lose this coal war in the long run because renewables are now producing cheaper btu’s. Tech will continue to drop the price for renewables btu’s along with the advantage of growing in scale.

  14. TommyWantsHisMommy on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 4:00 pm 

    I don’t buy that coal is dead. It’s taking a break. When the oil/gas dries up, we’ll go for whatever is out there to burn. People don’t give any shitZ about what they are burning if the alternative means freezing/starving/heat stroke.

  15. Boat on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 4:04 pm 


    Between 2008 and 2016, 17 percent of U.S. coal capacity retired and another four percent converted to natural gas and other fuels. As a result, coal’s share of electrical generation fell from 51 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2016.
    Let’s see how these numbers stack up in 2020.

  16. Apneaman on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 6:27 pm 

    War on humans progressing nicely. Faster than expected actually.

    At least 27 dead as Ophelia winds fan wildfires in Portugal

    “It is hoped that the final death toll will be lower than the 64 who perished in June’s blazes around Pedrógão Grande in the centre of the country, but fire crews were still fighting more than 100 of the 523 wildfires registered on Sunday in what authorities called Portugal’s “worst day of the year” for fires.”

    Misanthropic nihilist deniers going to be happy about this body count & disaster. Keep up the good work.

  17. Anonymous on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 7:53 pm 


    How is peak oil working out for you? Did predict the growth in US shale? The drop in prices? How are your electric car, maple sugar lodge, and high school art class?

    You have been here for 10+ years of peak oil. TOD is shut down. Do you have any post mortem? Learnings? Changed opinions? Is peak oil movement about analysis or about religion (belief, bias)?

    What are the languages you speak, where did you do your Peace Corps stint, and did you finish the whole thing (buddies gf bailed halfway, here this is common)?

  18. JuanP on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 9:16 pm 

    Apnea, Today I was driving down the road and saw something that made me think of you. There was a LED board street sign on one of the causeways to Miami Beach that said “October 17-21 roads will flood during high tides”. It’s the first time I see anything like it. I couldn’t stop laughing.

  19. Sissyfuss on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 9:28 pm 

    Boatyfuss, there’s no growth in our current econmanomy. Trillions concocted out of thin air and profitless tight oil extending and pretending. If you believe in the Ponzi, well bless your pointy little head. Prepping has the best return on investment. That and a good bugout cabin.

  20. Boat on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 9:51 pm 


    Your information and understanding of economics obviously came from the used side of the toilet paper. Bugout and prepping just throws more co2 in the air. Seems you get little right. Let me guess, you prefer man on man sex and prefer Shia over Sunnie.

  21. Sissyfuss on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 11:23 pm 

    I prefer intellectuals over below average IQs.

  22. Boat on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 11:35 pm 

    And you are greggiet’s alter ego. The book of moron your top read. Caran’t your religion. A couple of towel head bob and murmmer Jew wannabes.

  23. makati1 on Mon, 16th Oct 2017 11:44 pm 

    Boat, the babbler. Should I correct your grammar and spelling? It would get a failing mark. lol

  24. TheNationalist on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 12:43 am 

    Meanwhile here in sunny Australia our “conservative” government attacks us here in South Australia for our reliance on renewables as we close coal plants like Port Augusta.
    Now our federal government has abandoned the Renewaable Energy Target and “the greatest challenge of our time” (as Kevin Rudd our former prime minister called it), and moved towards “Affordability and Reliability”.
    Surely this is just cognitive disonance now?
    We even have politicians callling for energy companies to build coal fired base load. The only problem is the banks, corporations and insurance companies don’t want to touch it. We need a revolution but everyone is terrified to go first.

  25. Cloggie on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 5:35 am 

    “I prefer intellectuals over below average IQs.”

    Sissyfuss, the closet white nationalist.

    Finally some sense from the NYT:

  26. Cloggie on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 5:38 am 

    “Boat, the babbler. Should I correct your grammar and spelling? It would get a failing mark. lol”

    Worst of all, he makes no sense. You can’t fix stupid.

  27. Davy on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 5:45 am 

    cloggie, you and mad kat make sense in your fantasy worlds so what is the difference. Typical old men losing their faculties and thinking they are kings. No wonder people are retired at a certain age.

  28. TheNationalist on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 8:37 am 

    The Jew York Times is a joke. It’s a toilet paper rag for wealthy zionist pigs like Clinton or Weinstein.
    Has links to the Criminal Intelligence? Agency and all that Isis creating filth too.

  29. rockman on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 8:55 am 

    Boat – “Let’s see how these numbers stack up in 2020.” Check your calendar, buddy: it’s 2017…not 2020. Try to stay on topic. LOL. For whatever reason coal just took a pretty significant bump up in the US. Ignoring FACTS by focusing on speculations of conditions years down the road doesn’t benefit the environment TODAY. The critical “what if” factor is what if oil/NG prices eventually increase significantly especially before the renewables ramp up to a meaningful level? To assume much of the world, including the US and Europe, won’t increasingly turn to coal is a very dangerous assumption IMHO.

  30. J. H. Wyoming on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 12:55 pm 

    Never underestimate the absolute pure raging hatred against the environment both Trump and the GOP have.

    He is truly filled with hatred for lower income, middle class Americans and anything goes with someone like that. Increase coal usage, reduce renewables installation, Eliminate Obamacare, increase lead & mercury in water, go back to clearcutting us Forest, shut down news stations not falling in line with his message of hatred. This is an unprecedented in US history period of fascism and it’s only just gotten started.

  31. Boat on Tue, 17th Oct 2017 7:13 pm 


    After coal dropped 20 percent in 8 years it is projected to gain as much as 1-2 percent of market share by 2018. I get that. But from what I read maybe as many as 26 or so coal plants may close by 2020.
    Coal and nat gas swap making btu’s depending on price. Nat gas jumped to $3.30 for awhile and coal stepped in.
    We’ll see if coal maintains that jump in production with nat gas at sub $3.

  32. rockman on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 2:59 pm 

    Boat – “We’ll see if coal maintains that jump in production with nat gas at sub $3.” Which is the point I keep making that you want to ignore. You like offering projections so here one for you to prognosticate for us: coal consumption X years down the road when NG range from $6 to $12 per MCF as they did for the 6 years between 2003 and 2009. Nothing wrong with projecting $3 per MCF for ever. Other then it defies the well documented his of the volatility of NG prices. As pointed out in 2007 when prices were only running about 2X current level about 150 new coal plants and upgrades were planned. So were you proclaiming King Coal was dead in late 2008 when NG hit $12/MCF? After all just 12 months later is dropped to $4/MCF? IOW just how good was your crystal ball working back then? LOL.

    So again: do you think coal will still be “dead” when NG prices increase significantly? Or will coal become the “walking dead” of fossil fuels? LOL.

  33. Anonymous on Wed, 18th Oct 2017 3:43 pm 

    NG will be volatile. This is clear even without considering unknowns of depletion, etc. Just based on weather. But the long term strip for NG is very promising. ~$3 (slight up in winter, down in summer) until the cows come home. Of course a bad winter will make them spike. But just as importantly a warm winter will make them crash. (Peakers always forget that prices can go low, not just high.) (see fourth chart down)

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