Is the writing on the wall for U.S. coal?

The EPA is expected to set limits on greenhouse-gas emissions by new power plants. Edelstein explores the implications such limits would have on the coal and electric car industries.  

Seth Perlman/ AP Photo/ File
A conveyor belt moves underground mined coal to the surface at Peabody Energy's Gateway Mine near Coulterville, Ill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is developing a proposed rule due out in June that could allow states to use carbon excise taxes or fees to limit the one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions that come from power plants.

What will power your plug-in car in a few years? If new EPA regulations go into effect, it may not be coal.

Next week, the EPA is expected to set limits on greenhouse gas emissions by new power plantsThe New York Times reports.

These new standards may deter the construction of new coal plants.

While full details of the proposal have not been released, the EPA is expected to set separate limits for coal and natural-gas plants. 

Natural-gas plants would potentially be allowed to emit up to 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, while coal plants would be allowed to emit 1,400 pounds per mWh.

That may seem as if coal is getting a break--but, on average, the most advanced coal plants still emit 1,600 pounds of CO2 per mWh. Comparable natural-gas plants, on the other hand, only emit 790 pounds.

The solution for coal plants would seem to be carbon-capture technology, which involves scrubbing a power plant's emissions before they reach the smokestack and storing and removing the resulting carbon.

However, the American Public Power Association, a consortium of publicly-owned utilities, believes that technology will not be commercially feasible for at least eight years.

If the EPA's proposed CO2 emission caps go into effect, utility companies may decide that coal-fired plants just aren't worth the trouble, with supplies natural gas is already cheap and abundant.

According to the Energy Information Administration, none of the 136 new or expanded power plants opening this year is powered by coal. Only two of 127 plants expected to open next year will be coal-powered.

And the lack of new coal plants trend could contribute to an already-growing glut of coal.

With domestic demand flagging, the U.S. coal industry had hoped to increase exports. Now, it is scaling back its export goals due to lethargic foreign demand. Coal exports are expected to drop 5 percent this year, and to continue dropping in years to come.

A major factor is China's decision to ban construction of new coal plants around Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou to control air pollution. China also plans to start supplementing electricity generated by coal with greener forms of energy.

Electric car skeptics believe coal-generated electricity negates their green benefits. But with coal on the decline, that argument could become less relevant.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to  Is the writing on the wall for U.S. coal?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today