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Is The War On Coal Really Over?

Is The War On Coal Really Over? thumbnail

On Tuesday, Pruitt’s EPA proposed to withdraw the Clean Power Plan (CPP), a controversial step that seeks to roll back the clock on arguably the most important environmental achievement of President Obama. In fact, some argue that the CPP ranks up there along with the healthcare overhaul as one of Obama’s top domestic policy victories.

The Clean Power Plan puts limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants with the goal of lowering emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

Here’s how it was supposed to work. The EPA would require states to lower greenhouse gas emissions from their power plants, but the agency would simply set a cap and let states figure out how to bring emissions down below that level. Certain coal plants could survive under the rule if its owner built renewable energy, for example, or if emission reductions were achieved elsewhere in the power plant fleet.

Under Scott Pruitt, the EPA now argues that the Obama administration overstepped its legal authority, and doesn’t have the power to regulate “outside the fence line” in this way. The EPA can only regulate individual sources of pollution—requiring coal plants to use more efficient equipment, for example. In other words, Pruitt is arguing the EPA can’t set fleetwide emissions caps. The theoretical result, if Pruitt is successful, is that coal-fired power plants might have to use more efficient technology, but may not have to limit their carbon pollution.

Pruitt’s argument is complex and not entirely immune to legal challenges. Environmental groups and the New York attorney general, among others, have already promised lawsuits.

The problem for Pruitt and the current EPA is that he can’t simply scrap the rule. The EPA not only has the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, but it is legally obligated to do so under a Supreme Court ruling dating back to 2007. That means that the EPA can’t simply throw the regulations in the trash and then do nothing—the agency has to come up with a different way to try to attack carbon pollution.

On one hand, some argue that trying to derail the CPP may not amount to much because the U.S. is on track to cut CO2 emissions with or without EPA regulation, the result of cheap natural gas and increasingly cheap renewable energy. Since 2005, U.S. emissions are down by roughly 25 percent—the direct result of fuel switch from coal to gas.

Coal used to account for more than half of the nation’s electricity generation, and that share is down to about a third. Because the CPP never even went into effect—the Supreme Court put it on hold last year. The energy transition has had much more to do with cheaper gas and cheaper renewable energy.

The CPP actually laid out rather lenient cuts to emissions, targets that many analysts see as achievable even without carbon regulations. Scrapping the CPP won’t derail the transition to cleaner energy that is already underway.

Indeed, the Wall Street Journal reports that major utilities are likely to continue investments in renewables and natural gas whether or not the EPA succeeds in repealing the climate regulations. American Electric Power Co., NRG Energy and Southern Co. all said that the repeal of the CPP would only have a “marginal effect” on their long-term investment plans, according to the WSJ.

American Electric Power is a perfect example of the shift underway. The company once used coal for 70 percent of its electricity generation, but that share is now less than half. AEP has stepped up billion-dollar investments into major renewable energy projects, a strategy that will continue with or without the repeal of the CPP. “That course will not change,” AEP’s CEO Nick Akins told the WSJ. “Clearly our shareholders and customers expect a clean-energy economy.”

More to the point, why would a utility invest a lot of money into a coal plant that is supposed to run for decades, with a payback period that lasts decades, when there is a decent chance that it will run afoul of future climate regulations? Even if the Trump administration succeeds in staving off carbon limits for the next few years, some future administration might not be as coal-friendly.

As a result, any practical utility executive is going to stay far away from new investments in coal.

In other words, coal isn’t coming back, even if the EPA has its way and scraps the CPP.

But, that isn’t to say that Pruitt’s actions are meaningless. The pending repeal of the CPP offers “a glimmer of hope” for the coal industry, said William Nelson, a power analyst with Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Nelson pointed out that the CPP didn’t really spell the end of coal, but put a hard ceiling on its upside, preventing a switch back to more coal “in the event of an unforeseen, prolonged gas-price spike.” So while taking away the CPP may not bring the coal industry roaring back, “the cap on that upside is now washed away.” Scrapping the CPP could prevent the closure of some old coal plants, at least for a period of time, facilities that could be called upon to run at higher levels without carbon constraints.

More importantly, the CPP was the legal framework that would lead to a steady tightening of emissions limits over time. In that context, a repeal or watering down of the CPP is much more significant. The CPP is the mechanism through which much more stringent carbon limits would be implemented.

Bottom line: Scott Pruitt won’t bring back coal, but he might preserve the status quo.


15 Comments on "Is The War On Coal Really Over?"

  1. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 12th Oct 2017 8:18 pm 

    Obama was a loser. He kisses North Korea’s
    butt while their crazy man builds nukes.

    He fixes medical care to crackheads on meth
    using tax money from people who are working
    for a living.

    He fills up our country with ISIS “immigrants”
    and participated in the big lie, at the global
    level, filling up Europe with ISIS immigrants

    And Obama throws all the coal workers
    out of a job and says we can get our
    electricity from windmills when there
    is no wind.

    And Obama never went after the Bush Jr
    criminals who stole all the money and
    caused the recession.

    With a track record like that, we elected
    Trump, who rampages around like an
    idiot, accomplishing nothing but making
    plenty of noise.

    Good. That’s better than Obama and Hillary.

  2. Mick on Thu, 12th Oct 2017 11:12 pm 

    Who needs coal anyway when we got stuff we can burn for free ie. sofas la z boy recliners , tyres and clapped out ikea crap and better sill anyone can do in there back yard . Right gsr

  3. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 12:40 am 

    Hi Mick,
    Did ya see the drone video of the Odessa
    Tire Fire, damn I liked the part where ya
    parked teh 18-wheeler next to the tires
    ya it went up with everythig else.

    Well on a practical note, Mick we can mix all the sofa’s and the recliners and the garbage into a nice mix with the Wyoming coal and it will produce energy just exactly like it’s supposed to. And we don’t need
    to worry about if it’s night time, or if
    there is no wind. Well, no wind Koff Koff
    need just enough wind to blow the smoke away.

    Here is the Odessa Tire Fire cause Mick
    I am just worried ya didn’t see our best

  4. deadlykillerbeaz on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 1:26 am 

    China burns more than half of the coal burned in one year! Ain’t nobody gonna do a thing about it. Ain’t no war on coal in China!

    You mean tahr fahr, not tire fire.

    It is Friday, October the 13th, so it would be a good day to burn climate change deniers at the stake! Or any day, for that matter, just so they die in agony! Climate Change Deniers don’t deserve to live and do deserve to die an igmonious death!

    We don’t need no stinkin’ climate change deniers!

    October 1307, Friday the 13th, the day that the Knights Templar were arrested and then tortured because the King of France owed them money and wasn’t going to pay!

    We live in a new dark age and everybody is in the dark!

    Anyhow, here is how the story goes for the fate of the Knights Templar:

    On the first day of the operation it is believed that over 600 arrests were made with an emphasis on the orders command staff. This includes the Grandmaster, the Treasurer and various Preceptors. These individuals were isolated and immediately questioned, and subjected to torture in order to obtain confessions. King Phillip wanted many confessions to present to the Pope in order to overwhelm the Pope and to gain his support for the operation.
    Pope Clement, at King Phillip’s request, issues arrest warrants Knights Templar throughout Europe. These Papal warrants were served very slowly and no Templars, outside of France, were found guilty (if they were even located).
    In France, during the trials, many Templars recanted their confessions because they were obtained under torture or the threat of death. In 1310, King Phillip ordered that 61 Templars be burned at the stake because they had recanted their confessions.
    Pope Clement V saw the persecution doing irreparable harm to the church and granted immunity to the Templars leaders (plus other actions see bull Ad providam). His actions were never carried out as the Pope became seriously ill.
    Jacques Demolay and other Templars were sentenced to life imprisonment. When Grandmaster Demolay heard this he refused to accept the sentence. On March 18, 1314 King Phillip seized Jacques Demolay and Geoffrey de Charmey from legal custody and had them burned at the stake on an island on the river Seine.
    Jacques Demolay asked that his wrists be untied. As the fire started his eyes gazed at the Cathedral Notre Dame and he prayed. The Grandmaster then gave the Templars curse. Within a year following Demolay’s death both Pope Clement and King Phillip IV were dead.

    So, March 18th would be another good day to burn climate change deniers at the stake!

    Use coal, not wood, or sofas and tires can work too.

  5. Mick on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 2:42 am 

    F&@k gsr now thats what i call a bonfire. Nice work,can we do a similar one over at your place this weekend I’ll bring the sticks and dogs

  6. Cloggie on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 3:06 am 

    It is Friday, October the 13th, so it would be a good day to burn climate change deniers at the stake! Or any day, for that matter, just so they die in agony! Climate Change Deniers don’t deserve to live and do deserve to die an igmonious death!… We live in a new dark age and everybody is in the dark!

    You seem to be the embodiment of the coming dark ages.

  7. Revi on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 7:14 am 

    Coal is king in West Virginia. Look at how it’s helped out that state. It’s been a boon to Eastern Kentucky too! And parts of Pennsylvania are really thriving as well. Let’s turn the whole country into a big open pit mine! It’s time!

  8. Sissyfuss on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 7:46 am 

    It’s not a war on coal, it’s a war on Nature. And Pruitt is just a toady to Trumps King Phillip.

  9. Apneaman on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 9:16 am 

    deadlykillerdenier, if it was up to me to deal out the punishment, I would keep most of you denier scum alive for as long as possible. Seeing your handy work destroy/kill your families and country while knowing your lying and deceiving helped make it happen as fast and harsh as possible is the worst punishment there is. Hell, given the hysterical defense of deniers the last few months in the US as it drowns and burns was quite telling. The greater the level of destruction the more shrill (and pathic) your denier screams become. Some of you will become violent soon in a desperate bid to silence reality. It won’t work.

    What benefit does the denial bring to you? It can’t be economic since the cancer has only increased every year and only the naive and/or unlearned would ever think humans would stop using oil/liquid fuel. So why spread the denier lies? Why the tireless efforts by an army of true believer deniers? What’s motivating y’all?

    Protection of your cherished worldview is what. If y’all on team right are wrong about AGW then you are wrong about the single biggest existential threat the humans have ever faced. Can’t be any more wrong – the wrongest. What’s funny is that prior to 1988ish, American conservatards had no real issues with climate science (physics & chemistry). Only when a threat to the Cancer industry bottom line was perceived, did the high dollar propaganda machine get rolled out and shortly after the frothing at the mouth and hysterics and alarmism from the disciples. Almost 30 years now and y’all is as loud as ever even though oil extraction has climbed every year. It’s like the more you get of the things you say you want the louder you scream that they are under threat of being taken away. It’s the same with the guns. More guns (and accessories) than ever, but panic buying and gun control hysterics after each mass shooting or brown POTUS. Curiously, it’s the same group by and large. What could possibly make a group of like minded individuals act in such a paradoxical manner? It’s kinda like threatening to quit your job unless they give you a raise, they give you the raise, then you threat to quit twice as much.

    The problem for deniers is that people & properties are getting hammered and the denial is preventing any serious changes to protect people and property. Can’t spend tax dollars protecting people from the consequences of a hoax now can we? It’s costing much more doing nothing until after the disasters hit. Thanks denier scum. Thanks for supporting and spreading the lies that have helped prevent governments from taking precautionary measures to save lives and property. Adaptation is the only option remaining to the humans and the door will close on that one day too.

    Republicans Brains are wired to deny science & reality

    [This is my book review of Chris Mooney’s 2012 “The Republican Brain. The Science of Why They Deny Science—and Reality”.]

    “Chris Mooney’s book also sees our emotional brains as a big part of how we see the world, and of why we become a Democrat or Republican.

    When an emotion bubbles up from our subconscious brain, we rationalize, not reason. Or as Mooney puts it, “we’re not scientists, we’re lawyers trying to ‘win the case’, especially if we’re emotionally committed to an idea”. We start to become little lawyers when we develop motivated reasoning around the age four or five. That’s when we start siding with the groups we belong to — our family, friends, neighbors, church, and political party.”

    For the Joe Six Pack deniers it’s not about money or science, it’s about tribal loyalty and worldview (all worldviews are fictions).

  10. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 9:23 am 

    Hi Mick
    Ya come on over. But only bring 2 sofa’s and 5 tires.

    Cause I am on only an acre and don’t want the
    neighbors calling the cops.

    Ya bring hot dogs and I got the beer.
    Best part of the video is where ya had
    the drone too close to the smoke.
    Mick ya almost burnt up our $900 Drone LOL.

  11. Apneaman on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 9:31 am 

    Overnight Energy: Lawmakers grill Perry over rule to help coal, nuke plants

    “LAWMAKERS SLAM ENERGY GRID RULE: Energy Secretary Rick Perry faced criticism from lawmakers Thursday over his proposal to require higher payments for electricity from coal and nuclear plants.

    Numerous Democrats and one Republican on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s energy subcommittee lobbed charges at Perry that his rule would be anti-competitive, help out uncompetitive power plants and destroy electricity markets.

    “You are distorting the market, damaging the environment and delivering preferential treatment to favored industries,” Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.), the top Democrat on the full committee, told Perry.

    “At the end of the day, killing off competitive electricity markets just to save generation assets that are no longer economical will lead to higher prices for consumers,” he said.

    Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) said the proposal doesn’t align with Perry’s free-market energy policies from his time as Texas’s governor.”

    Yabut liberals will hate it and that’s an emotional victory for conservatards and really, isn’t that the most important thing? The only thing that matters anymore. Works both ways btw. A nation divided.

  12. Boat on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 2:40 pm 

    In the end capitalism will choose the lower cost producer. The movement of money transforms politics. Every time cheeto swims upstream to higher cost dirtier energy he will lose votes. Bring on 2020.

  13. Davy on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 3:17 pm 

    Boat do you really think Trump matters? Government has never really influenced energy in the US. It is more the other way around.

  14. Sissyfuss on Fri, 13th Oct 2017 4:17 pm 

    Right now the invisible hand of capitalism is bitch slapping Boaty McBoat Fart til his lips turn blue.

  15. rockman on Sat, 14th Oct 2017 12:02 am 

    Revi – “Let’s turn the whole country into a big open pit mine! It’s time!” Interesting comment from someone living in a state when the citizens each average 450# of coal burning per year. Not as high a per capita average as most states. But none the less it has to be dug out of the ground somewhere.

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