USA – coal

In 2010, 44.9% of power generation in the USA was coal-based. Between 2010 and 2022, 48 gigawatts of coal will have been retired at 231 plants: that’s 14.1% of the total 339,000 megawatts of coal-fired power generation in 2010. All except 6 plants are more than 30 years old; the majority of plants are older than 50 years. link  By early 2012 that number had declined to 36%in the first quarter of 2012. link  (The figure for 2016 was down to 30.4% – link)
Coverage of coal in USA at  


  • Coal’s decline
  • Coal – a risky proposition
  • EPA rulings
 Coal’s decline

March 2017: Decline of coal during Obama administration. When Obama came to power, coal provided 52% of US electricity; now it is closer to 30%. The fall is down to competition from cheap, shale gas and the closure of 411 coal-fired power plants under Obama’s administration as more than 50 coalmining companies went bankrupt. Coalmining employed 98,505 people in 2015, down from 127,745 in 2008, the year Obama was elected president, and about 250,000 in the 1970s. link

February 2018: Coal industry will not come back to life under Trump. Despite a long-standing campaign by the coal industry to blame the industry’s decline on President Obama’s environmental policies, the primary drivers of that decline have been economic, the most important being the low cost of natural gas. In 2018, moreover, power-generating companies plan to close over 14 GW of coal capacity, which would be the second-largest annual total of coal power plant retirements in U.S history. link

 Coal a risky proposition

March 2011: The Union of Concerned Scientists have issued a report titled, A Risky Proposition which concludes that in the 1970s there was a massive over-investment in coal and nuclear plants without proper heed to the associated financial risks. Many people continue to think that coal is the cheapest and most plentiful electric fuel.  “A Risky Proposition” expertly debunks these lingering misconceptions. link
(How Coal Works – USC informative page details how coal forms, the history and side-effects. and future – link)

May 2016: Coal assets may never again be economic. More than half the assets in the global coal industry are now held by companies that are either in bankruptcy proceedings or don’t earn enough money to pay their interest bills, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. In the U.S., only three of 12 large coal miners traded on public markets escape that ignominious club. The largest of those, Consol Energy, is morphing into a natural-gas producer. Climate change campaigners have been warning of the threat of stranded assets, fossil-fuel reserves that can never be exploited if the world hopes to avoid 2C warming, since at least 2012. link

June 2012: Study: Coal plants do more harm than goodA report from the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) evaluated the health impacts of the 18 dirtiest coal plants, from the standpoint of sulfur dioxide emissions, and found that the cost of health care required as the result of the pollution exceeded the cost of electricity produced by the plants. The plants are located in 13 states in the South and Midwest.  Overall, the report found between 2,700 and 5,700 deaths per year attributable to pollution from the 51 dirtiest American coal plants. This translates into a cost somewhere between $23 and $47 billion. The problem is, of course, that this money does not show up on the companies’ balance sheets, at least not at the present time. link

January 2011: Banks, climate & the Carbon Principles. In February 2008, three leading banks, Citi, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley, announced common coal power financing policies, known as the Carbon Principles. Heralded as a new path for the banking industry, the Carbon Principles were supposed to make it “tougher to finance conventional coal-fired plants in the U.S.” Rainforest Action Network research reveals that, while the broader economy has been shifting away from new coal power plants, the banks that have signed onto the Carbon Principles are continuing with business as usual in regards to financing coal. Burning coal is the nation’s top source of air pollution and toxic mercury, and it is responsible for one third of the country’s greenhouse gas emission, nearly 2 billion tons per year. (Click here to see report)

 EPA Rulings

January 2014: EPA issues new emission rules. The Environmental Protection Agency has, at long last, published its rule to limit carbon emissions from new power plants. The proposed rule appeared four months after EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy announced it back in September. The regulation mandates that all future coal plants can emit just 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. (An average U.S. coal plant currently dumps over 1,700 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere.) The rule also covers new natural-gas fired plants. Natural gas plants, 100MW or larger, will be limited to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The rule will make it very difficult for new coal-fired power plants to be built in the United States. link

Cross-State Air Pollution Rule

October 2012: Cross-pollination rule rejected. A DC Court of Appeals sent the cross pollution rule back to the EPA for revision and ordered the agency to administer its existing Clean Air Interstate Rule – the Bush-era regulation. By the time the EPA revises the rule on cross-state  pollution, which could take at least two years, the impact would be limited because more stringent mercury and air toxics rules will kick in by 2015 and force old, coal-fired plants to shut down, up to a total of 50GW. link.   
 – September 2016: The EPA finalized an update to the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule. Starting in May 2017, this rule will reduce summertime (May – September) nitrogen oxides (NOX) emissions from power plants in 22 states in the eastern U.S., providing up to $880 million in benefits and reducing ground-level ozone exposure for millions of Americans.  The rule will reduce air quality impacts of ozone pollution that crosses state lines and will help downwind areas meet and maintain the 2008 ozone air quality standard. link

March 2011: The EPA must act on coal ash within 90 days – link (more on Coal Ash page
September 2016: Final ruling – read here.

May 2010: UCS – 3 dozen states are collectively hemorrhaging tens of billions of dollars annually on imported coal to generate electricity, according to a report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Residents in those states would be better served, the report concludes, if more money were spent in-state on local renewable energy technology and energy efficiency programs. The first-of-its-kind report, which ranks the 38 states that are net importers of domestic and foreign coal based on the most recent available data, found that 11 of them each spent more than $1 billion annually on imported coal in 2008. 63% of domestic coal comes from just three states: Wyoming, West Virginia and Kentucky. Foreign coal burned in U.S. coal plants mainly comes from Colombia. “Importing coal to produce electricity is a drain on state economies,” said Jeff Deyette, the assistant director of energy research and analysis in UCS’s Climate & Energy Program and a report co-author. (More than 80% of the foreign coal imports in 2008 came from Colombia. The balance came from Venezuela and Indonesia and the United States still exports more coal than it imports.) link