Big Coal In Forced Retreat From War On Reality


Welcome to Drakesboro KY, photo by Jimmy Emerson, via Flickr

As covered today in the National Journal and elsewhere, approximately 180,000 megawatts of US coal-burning capacity have been taken off-line in the past five years, to which we may now add 3,000+ megawatts of coal-generating capacity TVA plans to shutter.  Example: one of these plants to be closed by TVA, known as the Paradise Fossil Plant, is located near Drakesboro KY, population 510, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky, USA. 

Drakesboro was once home to the legendary picker Mose Rager, as per the sign in the above picture. You can get a sense of Mose’s guitar style in this demonstration.  But I digress.

Mainstream print media and right-wing blogs have long parroted the idea that recent closures are happening because of rules by the ‘liberal EPA,’ focusing specifically on proposed Federal carbon emission limits for utilities and also on Federal Mercury and Air Toxics Standards.

Factories and utilities already have air permits or they could not legally operate. Typically, an air permit is good for at least 4 years once issued and, if nothing significant changes physically within the plant, owners are sometimes able to operate 8 or 10 years past the date of original issuance.  After notice of a permit renewal requirement is given by EPA and/or the State, the facility owner has months or sometimes years to complete the re-application, during which time estimation of the cost of meeting new  limits (if any exist) takes time.  There is no way that all the coal-fired plants being shuttered are renewing their permits at once and that they all know their costs to meet the pending new limits.  That would be a practical impossibility until after the proposed Carbon emissions rule is finalized and after pending lawsuits challenging it are settled.   This is a months or years down the road decision for utilities, is my point.

The lie oft repeated.
I’m directly addressing in this section those clueless reporters too lazy to call the EPA Office of Air & Radiation before laying blame on regulations.

Thousands of megawatts worth of  coal-burning capacity are being shuttered lately mainly because the low price of natural gas is kicking their boiler fired bottom (line). The invisible hand of the  free market has spoken. (EPA’s hand was never hidden in any of these rule makings, by the way; Congressional  members from coal states would not allow that, regardless of party affiliation.)

Republican paradise lost?
Ironically, some coal-producing States such as Pennsylvania  also  happen to be big natural gas producers, due to the  fracking boom. Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor and largely Republican legislature, for example, have actively defended the fracking industry’s growth.

What happens when PA coal miners eventually realize that GOP standard bearers helped sell their industry down the creek by supporting fracking?  That it was not the ‘Liberal EPA’ that sunk coal’s prospects first?

We shall see.


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