Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Exposing the 'War on Coal' Charade

Energy

Media Matters for America

By Shauna Theel

Following the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), conservative media are once again claiming that the Obama administration's U.S. EPA has waged a "war on coal." But that narrative ignores how natural gas has outcompeted coal, and why the long-overdue Clean Air Act regulations on coal are necessary in the first place. Here's what the public should know, as told in charts and graphics:

Low natural gas prices are behind the drop in coal power.

As this chart shows, the boom in shale natural gas production has led to a drop in the price of natural gas—in the free marketplace, many coal plants simply can't compete.

[Source: CO2 Scorecard based on EIA data, August 2012]

Clean Air Act regulations are long-overdue.

George H.W. Bush's EPA administrator acknowledged that the Obama administration inherited several court-mandated rules from previous administrations, calling them "grenades" that required action. For instance, this timeline put together by energy giant Dynegy shows that the Mercury and Air Toxics rule issued under the Obama administration underwent a "thorough and lengthy development process." The 1990 Clean Air Act amendments required that the EPA study mercury and other emissions. In 2005, the EPA issued its final rule for controlling mercury that the Bush administration's own lawyers reportedly said would "almost certainly be reversed" by the courts. After the courts indeed reversed it, the burden of complying with the requirement to regulate mercury fell to the Obama administration:

[Source: Dynegy via SEC, January 2013]

Coal has huge health impacts even after decades of regulation in the U.S.

In countries like China and India where coal is not as strictly regulated, coal pollution is extremely deadly. Meanwhile, in the U.S., harmful emissions have been significantly reduced, a fact that conservative media and the coal industry have used to tout coal's alleged cleanliness. But they often fail to mention that the industry only reduced its emissions after being required to by clean air standards, and that coal still has huge health impacts. The following chart details some of the known and quantifiable health impacts of pollution from coal plants:

[Source: Rocky Mountain Institute based on Clean Air Task Force data, 2010]

These health impacts have huge economic costs.

After studying 406 coal-fired power plants in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences concluded in 2009 that they were causing approximately $62 billion in societal damages, not including their contribution to climate change. The vast majority of damages were related to adverse health effects, but the report found that coal plants also do harm to agriculture and outdoor recreation.

[Source: National Academy of Sciences, 2010]

But coal plants are not paying for these costs.

Two economists, including one who spoke at the right-wing Heartland Institute's conference on climate change, published a study in the prestigious American Economic Review finding that the gross external damages (GED), or the amount of external costs that an industry imposes on society through pollution and other harm, was higher for coal-fired power plants than for any other industry, and that these plants "are responsible for more than one-fourth of GED from the entire US economy." As the GED costs of the coal power industry were greater than the value it added to the economy, the study concluded that coal may actually be "underregulated"—and therefore only superficially "cheap."

[Source: American Economic Review study, chart created by Media Matters] 

And that's not even including the damage coal plants do to the climate.

That same study found that coal plants do an additional $15 billion in damage to the economy through carbon emissions that contribute to climate change, using a conservative calculation of the cost of carbon. Indeed the carbon emissions of lignite coal and black coal per kilowatt-hour produced are far more than the emissions of any other power source:

[Source: Josh Nelson based on OECD/NEA data, February 2010]

And worldwide, the huge amounts of coal reserves are poised to bust the carbon budget more than any other fossil fuel. There are already major projects underway to exploit these resources, rather than leaving them in the ground.

[Source: NPR based on World Resources Institute's Climate Analysis Indicators tool, December 2011]

The Obama administration has made significant investments to try to make coal "cleaner."

The following chart shows that the stimulus devoted far more funding for demonstration projects to Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), projects that would try to advance thus-far elusive "clean coal" by capturing its huge carbon emissions and burying them underground, than similar projects for solar energy. The Energy Innovation Tracker report that this chart came from called demonstration projects "crucial" because they are "often expensive and underfunded by the private sector," a phenomenon known as the "commercialization valley of death." In total the stimulus devoted $3.4 billion to CCS. That is less than it appropriated for renewable generation overall, but it is nevertheless a significant investment in technology that could enable coal power to be compatible with a low-carbon future—a far cry from waging a "war" on the energy source.

[Source: Energy Innovation Tracker report, March 2013]

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL page for more related news on this topic.

——–

Click here to tell Congress to Expedite Renewable Energy.

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

By Michael Svoboda

The enduring pandemic will make conventional forms of travel difficult if not impossible this summer. As a result, many will consider virtual alternatives for their vacations, including one of the oldest forms of virtual reality – books.

Read More Show Less
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility on Thursday accused NOAA of ignoring its own scientists' findings about the endangerment of the North Atlantic right whale. Lauren Packard / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

By Julia Conley

As the North Atlantic right whale was placed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of critically endangered species Thursday, environmental protection groups accusing the U.S. government of bowing to fishing and fossil fuel industry pressure to downplay the threat and failing to enact common-sense restrictions to protect the animals.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less