April 16, 2015

The Fall Of Coal

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April 16, 2015 | Politico | Erica Martinson

April 16 is a big day for the coal industry.

It is the day that the Obama Administration’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, or MATS, rule goes into effect for U.S. power plants. Complying with tough new pollution standards is just one reason why the most dominant fuel source for electricity production in this country – coal – is on its way out.


Politico’s Erica Martinson traces the long arc of coal’s ascendence and demise in a story today. Ironically, coal first won favor in the wake of the 1970s energy crisis when then President Jimmy Carter pushed America to wean itself off of foreign oil and use more domestically produced coal. After touring a coal-fired plant near Louisville, Kentucky, Carter said:

“I would rather burn a ton of Kentucky coal, than to see our nation become dependent by buying another barrel of OPEC oil.”

But now a new President, and a new set of priorities, is heralding the end of the coal era. It is not only new pollution-scrubbing regulations, but also a new abundance of cheap, cleaner natural gas (thanks to hydraulic fracturing) and widespread concerns over climate change and global warming. The mercury pollution rule spelled the shutdown or partial shutdown of at least 58 coal-burning plants; in the next eight years, 76 more plants will take coal out of commission.

Environmentalists are applauding: “Judgment Day is coming,” said Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. But coal state economies are staggering under the economic changes this transition is forcing.

You can learn more about the history and future of coal by checking out Inside Energy’s new and ongoing series, The Future of Coal.