The coal industry is in trouble.
In an in-depth new report from Politico, one of the coal industry’s top figures spoke frankly about the success of activists who have helped close almost 200 coal plants in the last five years.
“They’re sophisticated, they’re very active, and they’re better funded than we are,” Mike Duncan, president of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, told Politico. “I don’t like what they’re doing. We’re losing a lot of coal in this country.”
Since 2010, one third of America’s coal plants have shut down, according to the Sierra Club. As the Washington Post points out, the remaining plants face challenges as regulations and increased competition threaten to drive them out of business.
The coal industry — which produces about 40% of US electricity — is being squeezed on multiple fronts. With financial backing from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, anti-coal activists at groups like the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal have managed to successfully lobby state and local governments to help shut down coal plants. As Politico notes, Beyond Coal claims to have shut down 189 plants since it launched in 2010.
Bolstered by a 2014 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate energy under the Clean Air Act, stricter limits on emissions from coal plants have made coal slightly more expensive.
Simultaneously, alternative energy sources have become cheaper. Fracking has made natural gas more accessible, while in the past year, solar and wind energy have managed to lower their prices to match natural gas and coal.
The Obama administration has also pushed clean energy, helping subsidise clean energy sources like wind and solar and promoting programs designed to train workers for these emerging clean energy producers.
Coal has been a primary target from environmentalists because of how dirty it is. According to the EPA, coal emissions are responsible for 77% of the energy sector’s total carbon emissions — more than all of America’s cars.
The EPA is currently hearing comments on a wide-ranging plan to cut coal-fired power plant emissions over the next several decades.
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