Home | About | Donate

Why Trump Can’t Save Coal From the Ash Heap of History

Why Trump Can’t Save Coal From the Ash Heap of History

Brett Wilkins

Environmentalists and other people who care about the air we breathe and the water we drink have sounded the alarm over President Donald Trump’s just-announced plan to roll back Obama-era regulations on coal-fired power plant emissions. And with good reason — the administration’s own internal analysis concluded the move could kill and sicken many Americans.

This isn’t a very good analysis of the situation. Most of the reduction in CO2 emissions has been due to coal being replaced by natural gas which costs less than coal due to all the fracking that is going on. Burning natural gas emits about haft as much CO2 as burning coal but the government grossly underestimated the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane that occurs from fracking and transporting natural gas. Since methane is a much more powerful greenhouse gas than CO2 it isn’t clear if replacing coal with natural gas provides any benefit with regard to greenhouse gas emissions. Even if coal burning is completely eliminated in the US we are still left with the problem of burning natural gas. There is a long way to go until both coal and natural gas are replaced with renewable energy.

1 Like

As usual, you miss the point(s):

  • Even when you replace coal with natural gas, you remove nearly all of the non-greenhouse gas pollutants, so you’re better off.

  • While you are correct that methane is a stronger greenhouse gas, it dissipates much faster from the atmosphere, roughly 10 years versus 200 years, so as we phase out gas in the future, the methane impact will go away in a relatively short period of time.

  • Renewables are already over 17% of our electric resource, and close to twice that many states.

  • Renewables, including storage, are falling in price faster than most forecasts have predicted.

  • Renewables, including storage, are being deployed on a faster and wider scale than most forecasts have predicted.

Energy efficiency and load management are also growing faster than previous forecasts have predicted, lowering the need for supply-side resources.

  • These over achievements in price and deployment of renewables, storage, energy efficiency and load management generally mean gas and nuclear will face accelerated retirement.

Things simply are not as dire from a system planning/build out perspective as you would have people believe.

Finally, the point of the article is true. Coal is on its last legs and that is a good thing. Frankly, you’re in way over your head when you try to weigh in on the electric sector and its environmental future.

So here’s another article from someone in California - far from the coal fields and coal power plants. As someone living here in the coalfields with power plants all around me - there is no indication that coal generation is going away.

In my area, First energy plans on keeping the huge 3-unit Bruce Mansfield Coal Power Plant running, but will be shutting down the Beaver Nuclear Plant next to it - a dramatic turn of events from just a few years earlier when it was the Coal power plant they were anticipating shutting down. When the nuclear plant is shut down, the carbon footprint of my county will increase enormously.

And once the glut of Marcellus shale gas clears and the price goes up a bit, idled coal mines will be restarted. About 50 percent of the easily minable reserves of the Pittsburgh Seam - a couple hindered years worth, remains to be mined.

Your anecdote is counter to the overall situation. Coals plants are being retired, not built, on a national and global scale. Many of those are early retirements. Coal simply can’t compete on a cost basis anymore. This is a trend that will not be reversed.

Every point you made is common knowledge. Yes I could have written in more depth. Sorry it didn’t meet your high standards for posting. A large percentage of the renewable energy is hydro which has been available for many years. Nothing new about that. With regard to global warming there many arguments about whether coal or natural gas from fracking is worse but hand downs natural gas is better for air quality which is important. But the main point I made is valid, the author should have mentioned natural gas more to give a more complete picture of what is going on as the CO2 emissions in the US have decreased. It is not the only reason for the decrease I think it is considered to be the biggest reason. I appreciate your response but I would suggest you tone down the arrogance. Hopefully you are not like that in person and that is merely an unbecoming internet personality trait.

I assume you were offended by this statement in my comment:

I apologize if I offended you and you are correct to note that the forum sometimes lets loose opinions and statements we might not make were discussing this face to face. Perhaps I was too frank as a result. Nonetheless, your comments, in my opinion, do not reflect an in-depth understanding of resource planning and acquisition or resource dispatch in the electric sector. This happens to be an area with which I am quite familiar and your statements, to me, fell short of the kind of analysis needed to reflect the reality facing this industry and it’s role in causing and solving our climate problem. It’s both complex and dynamic, but solvable and on track to do just that.

That said, I can’t help but note the irony of your reply. In your original comment you stated:

And in your reply to me you said:

But you then concede:

Isn’t this the very criticism you lodged against the author of this article?

Neither Trump nor anyone can save coal: it will run out.

Yunzer is correct that there is no indication by an active coal field that the industry is waning. All recent administrations have been very coal-friendly. One of Obama’s first acts in 2009 was to sign through 20-some coal mining permissions that George Bush had let stand, probably to avoid casting shade on John McCain’s candidacy.

By all indications the coal industry will wane when coal becomes sharply more difficult to mine and use than other energy sources, not before. And that includes not using plants that have already been built.

Ecological movements have done a lot to educate people and have had some successes against specific technologies, but have managed little reduction of energy consumption, at least in the United States.

Other sources of energy bear other compromises, though of course these are not all equal. We will either look at how to change to low-energy lifestyles, or the news will hit us blind.

None of this need particularly a vow of poverty, though being blindsided by a sudden energy deficit is apt to be considerably worse than that.

American people have very little control over our government and large businesses compared to the gravity of the necessary changes. It’s apt to be way easier to make positive changes in small groups. All the signs in Washington show a scorched earth policy.