Maintain Coal’s Role as a Vital Part of a Diverse Energy Portfolio

Coal is an indispensable foundation of the U.S. energy mix. But the EPA has begun issuing a rash of new regulations that are making it difficult to operate coal plants and virtually impossible to build a new ones.

Coal remains an affordable and reliable source of energy, and is necessary to generate the electricity Americans demand around the clock. We must continue to find ways to use coal more efficiently, and invest in technologies that reduce emissions. Steps should be taken to limit the harm from new and proposed rules that aim to curtail the use of one of our most abundant and secure sources of energy, ultimately harming businesses, consumers and the overall economy.

A Snapshot of Coal in the U.S.

From the time of the first steam engines to the era of modern power plants, coal has been a reliable and affordable source of energy. Today, there are more than 1,400 coal-fired plants operating across the United States. The U.S. has 259 billion short tons of coal—by far the world’s largest recoverable coal reserves. That’s enough to last more than 250 years.

The National Mining Association estimates that coal directly employs 211,000 people, including mine workers, and transportation and support staff, and indirectly employs 766,000 people. And coal itself is an extremely important fuel for industrial purposes, particularly steel production.

Yet in spite of the critical role coal plays in America’s energy mix, the government is increasingly restricting Americans’ ability to use it.

Coal-Fired Power Under Pressure

A flood of new regulations and an overabundance of relatively cheap natural gas are putting tremendous pressure on coal. Regulations covering mercury, coal ash, cross-state air pollution, regional haze, and greenhouse gases, among other things, could make it impossible to use one of our cheapest and most secure fuels. EPA regulations will limit the use of coal, shutter a significant number of existing power plants, and effectively ban the construction of new coal power plants.

The EPA insists that power generators comply with new regulations such as the Utility MACT rule by 2015, a completely unreasonable timeframe in which to shut down, significantly modify, or replace coal-fired power plants and build the necessary gas pipelines and electric transmission infrastructure. Sweeping changes like these simply take longer than the three years provided by EPA. Moreover, proposed greenhouse gas rules would require new coal plants to use carbon capture and sequestration systems that have not yet been demonstrated on a commercial scale.

What Happens to Consumers Without Coal?

Utility companies and independent organizations such as the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) have noted that these and other rules could disrupt and destabilize the electric grid. In fact, in its 2011 reliability report, NERC concluded that environmental regulations are the single greatest risk to the reliability of the grid looking five years ahead.

Beyond grid instability, the economic losses of a distressed U.S. coal industry could be tremendous. A NERA Economic Consulting assessment of seven major recent and anticipated EPA regulations affecting power generation from 2013 to 2034 noted that “retail electricity prices are estimated to increase by around 6.5–6.6% per year.”

Want to know more about coal? Read the full report, Energy Works for US.

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  • There has been a 110% increase in coal exports over the past five years
  • Coal regulations are predicted on average to increase consumer electricity costs by 6.6% per year
  • The U.S. has 259 billion short tons of coal – the world’s largest recoverable coal reserves.
  • Data Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Annual Energy Outlook 2008 and 2013; NDP Consulting and National Association of Manufacturers; National Mining Association
Policy Recommendations
  • DOE's Office of Fossil Energy's research portfolio should focus on the development, demonstration, and deployment of the full range of clean coal-generating technologies and improving and lowering the cost of carbon capture and storage and CCUS for coal and natural gas power–generating plants.
  • EPA should ensure that coal-mining regulations are consistent with the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and any other applicable statutes, and it should cease to use guidelines in lieu of statutorily prescribed regulatory process.
  • EPA should adopt realistic regulatory compliance timeframes to reduce the adverse burden on consumers, jobs, and electric reliability.
  • EPA’s regulations covering GHG emissions from new and existing power plants must not arbitrarily mandate technology that is not commercially available.
  • Environmental policies should focus on improving the efficiency of existing fossil fuel-fired power plants and the commercial use of highly efficient coal-fired electric power plants.
  • Policies, laws, regulations, and liability regimes that will govern geologic sequestration of carbon dioxide should be finalized. Long-term responsibility associated with the management and monitoring of such storage facilities must be apportioned and the appropriate level of public and private involvement in such facilities must be determined.
  • The Surface Transportation Board and the Army Corps of Engineers should fairly and expeditiously complete any necessary NEPA reviews of enhanced rail capability and increased port capacity to facilitate coal exports. These reviews should focus on the facilities’ direct environmental impact and not on theoretical upstream production growth or downstream use and impacts.