Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Environmental Rules Played Minor Role in Coal’s Decline

A coal-fired power plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. (Credit: TVA/flickr) Click to Enlarge.
Environmental and climate regulations that cut pollution from coal-fired power plants have played only a minor role in the decline of the coal industry, which has been hurt mainly by expanding use of natural gas and less demand for electricity, according to a Columbia University report published this week.

U.S. coal use fell by about 30 percent between 2011 and 2016.  The paper attributes about half of that decline to low natural gas prices, 26 percent to falling demand for electricity and 18 percent to growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar.  Only 3.5 percent of the coal industry’s decline is due to environmental and climate regulations that took effect prior to 2016.

The paper is among the first analyses to attribute specific factors in the decline of the coal industry in terms of percentages.  Its conclusions contradict Trump administration claims that Obama-era climate and environmental regulations are the main reason the coal industry has declined in recent years.

Trump and other lawmakers have said President Obama’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions amount to a “war on coal” and have put coal miners out of work and prevented the country from being energy independent.

Yet, the U.S. is among the world’s largest producers of fossil fuel.  It is the world’s largest producer of natural gas, second-largest producer of crude oil, and third-largest coal producer. The coal industry is also becoming increasingly automated, reducing the need for workers.

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