The Beginning of the End for Coal: A Long Year in the Life of the U.S. Coal Industry

Could a bill on coal power plants be the end of coal power all together?
By Lester R. Brown and Jonathan G. Dorn
April 2, 2008
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With concerns about climate change mounting, the era of coal-fired electricity generation in the United States may be coming to a close. In early 2007, a U.S. Department of Energy report listed 151 coal-fired power plants in the planning stages in the United States. But during 2007, 59 proposed plants were either refused licenses by state governments or quietly abandoned. In addition, close to 50 coal plants are being contested in the courts, and the remaining plants will likely be challenged when they reach the permitting stage.

What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power plants is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of opposition from environmental, health, farm and community organizations as well as leading climate scientists and state governments. Growing concern over pending legislation to regulate carbon emissions is creating uncertainty in financial markets. Leading financial groups are now downgrading coal stocks and requiring utilities seeking funding for coal plants to include a cost for carbon emissions when proving economic viability.

On March 11, 2008, Representatives Henry Waxman of California and Edward Markey of Massachusetts introduced a bill to ban new coal-fired power plants without carbon emissions controls nationwide until federal regulations are put in place to address greenhouse gas emissions. If Congress passes this bill, it will deal a death blow to the future of U.S. coal-fired power generation. Yet even without a legislative mandate for a moratorium, the contraction in financial support for new coal-fired power plants is escalating toward a de facto moratorium. This timeline is witness to what may well be the beginning of the end of coal-fired power in the United States.








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