Sense and Function

Politics, Philosophy, Art, Media, Environment, and Economics
MARCH 28, 2012 1:26AM

The Death of Coal

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David Roberts, in an article for, wrote an article recently about the top five things you need to know about EPA’s new carbon ruleHe points out that the EPA recently passed tough new rules for carbon emissions from power plants: 

"No new conventional coal plant can meet EPA’s new pollution standard. The only way to cut a coal plant’s emissions in half is to build it with carbon capture and sequestration, which adds as much as 30 percent to its cost." 

Carbon capture and sequestration, i.e. the much touted, and oxymoronic "Clean Coal," is ineffective, extremely rarely implemented, and very very expensive. This law means coal is being priced out of existence.

Now, before you celebrate (or decry) the EPA rule as a strong bid to crush Big Coal, you should know two things: 1) the rules only apply to new coal plants. Existing ones are just as dirty and just as active. Yes, there is a wave of coal-plant retirements, but this is due to age limits established long ago for the purpose of safety.

2) Coal is already dead. The rules aren't what is ending coal plant construction, natural gas is. There are no new coal plants planned between now and 2035. As one coal representative says: “We don’t have any plans to build new coal plants. So the rules won’t have much of an impact.” This is why the EPA ruling came and went and the stock market hardly noticed.

But in a way it is a nice strategic moment to pass stronger emissions requirements, when nobody cares, because later they may well care, and the law will already be established. But this doesn't exactly promote  green energy. The existing industry will need to be dragged kicking and screaming to renewables, and we need to have the guts to drag them.

Bonus Easter egg:

Meanwhile, when it comes to alternativesrenewables (esp. wind) are already cheaper than coal (9.1 cents/kwh vs. coal’s 13.3 cents/kwh, though ewea gives different ratios--see their neat tool, and politifact half agrees), and their cost is plummeting as production gets more widespread.

Furthermore, while Big Oil jacks up the price of gas at the pump, ‎and "Exxon boasts in its Securities and Exchange Commission filings that for every dollar increase in the price of oil, their profits rise by $375 million," Democrats have proposed a bill to cut Big Oil Subsidies by $20 billion, and give the proceeds to green energy. Obama supports the bill, and has proposed deeper subsidy cuts.

The Republican response to rising gas prices, predictably, is more drilling and the Keystone XL pipeline, even though "experts and outside analyses say such actions would also have little to no impact."

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Thanks for the update. I'm one of the canaries who feels the pain. My lungs immediately react to the particulates that actually pierce the lungs form things like coal and wood fires. Everyone else will be where I am one day in the future. Too bad they don't realize they are all acting like teenagers who think they are invincible.

The Boy in the Bubble