In this Thursday, April 29, 2010 file photo, a pair of coal trains idle on the tracks near Dry Fork Station, a coal-fired power plant being built by the Basin Electric Power Cooperative near Gillette, Wyo. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown)
The Associated Press has moved a national business story looking at the ongoing decline of the coal industry in America, reporting:
America is shoveling coal to the sidelines.
The fuel that powered the U.S. from the industrial revolution into the iPhone era is being pushed aside as utilities switch to cleaner and cheaper alternatives.
The share of U.S. electricity that comes from coal is forecast to fall below 40 percent for the year, its lowest level since World War II. Four years ago, it was 50 percent. By the end of this decade, it is likely to be near 30 percent.
“The peak has passed,” says Jone-Lin Wang, head of Global Power for the energy research firm IHS CERA.
The story continues:
Utilities are aggressively ditching coal in favor of natural gas, which has become cheaper as supplies grow. Natural gas has other advantages over coal: It produces far fewer emissions of toxic chemicals and gases that contribute to climate change, key attributes as tougher environmental rules go into effect.
Natural gas will be used to produce 30 percent of the country’s electricity this year, up from 20 percent in 2008. Nuclear accounts for 20 percent. Hydroelectric, wind, solar and other renewables make up the rest.
The shift from coal is reverberating across Appalachia, where mining companies are laying off workers and cutting production. Utilities across the country are grappling with how to store growing piles of unused coal. And legal disputes are breaking out as they try to cancel contracts and defer deliveries.
But around the same time, a revolution was under way in the natural gas industry. Drillers figured how to tap enormous deposits of previously inaccessible reserves. As supplies grew and the price of natural gas plummeted, the ground shifted under the electric-power industry.
Now coal is being beaten at its own game. Natural gas has become a cheap and abundant domestic resource, too. And it is more environmentally friendly.
What about the environmental rules from U.S. EPA? The story says:
A pair of clean air rules enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency over the past year tightens limits on power-plant emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, and place new limits on mercury, a poison found in coal. This will force between 32 and 68 of the dirtiest and oldest coal plants in the country to close over the next three years as the rules go into effect, according to an AP survey of power plant operators conducted late last year.
Coal was hit with a potentially bigger environmental blow in March when the EPA issued guidelines that could limit greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants as early as 2013. Once the guidelines go into effect, no coal plants will be built unless utilities can develop a cost-effective way to capture carbon dioxide, analysts say. That technology has been slow to develop and is very expensive.
“Even without the EPA rules, coal is not really competitive,” Wang says.
Of course, West Virginia political leaders wouldn’t want to pay any attention to a fairly nuanced news story that goes against their narrative about the “war on coal.” Just a little bit ago, Sen. Joe Manchin put out a statement declaring his strong support for a Republican resolution expressing disapproval of the EPA’s rule on toxic air emissions from power plants:
The day I arrived in the Senate, I have been determined to stop the EPA’s jobs-killing agenda, and this Resolution of Disapproval takes an important step to rein in this out-of-control agency. The EPA needs to be our ally, not our adversary, and work with states like West Virginia that can produce domestic resources to make this country less dependent on foreign energy and more secure as a nation. I’m very hopeful that in the coming weeks we will finally be able come together across the aisle to bring a balance to our environment and economy – and develop a true comprehensive energy policy.