It’s no secret that the physical landscape in Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio is continually changing. Rigs drilling for natural gas continue to dot the landscape and new pipelines continue to stretch across the Commonwealth carrying this new energy alternative from place to place, but there is one change happening in the energy industry that many people can’t see and that’s because the change is occurring underground, in coal mines. The federal government continues to hamper the coal sector of the energy industry with increased environmental regulations while mines continue to slow their production due to a decrease in demand, partially spurred by coal fired power plants shutting their doors. The coal sector is battling a perfect storm and is in a fight for its industrial life to keep its product relevant, which begs the question “Can Coal Survive”?
The Obama administration continues to put pressure on the coal industry in its attempt to battle global warming and greenhouse gas emissions. In September 2013, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule that any future coal fired power plants built in the United States must be able to emit less than 1,100 lbs of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour (lbs/MWH), which is currently below the national average of 1800 lbs/MWH for the most efficient plants. (1) This unreasonable proposed regulation, in the eyes of coal supporters, will severely limit the number of new coal fired power plants that are built thus also reducing the demand for coal that would otherwise be used to create this electricity.
In Western Pennsylvania two coal fired power plants closed their doors back in October 2013. The plants were operated by First Energy in both Washington and Greene County. Back in the fall of 2013 when this story first broke, First Energy’s president, James Lash, cited that the plants were losing money and the required upgrades to meet with the EPA’s anticipated regulations would cost in excess of $270 million dollars. (2) These upgrades, coupled with a report released by the Department of Environmental Protection, which predicts gas-fired power plants will account for 25% of electricity produced in Pennsylvania by 2017, led First Energy to what they saw as a no-brainer.
So is there any good news for coal? States are fighting vehemently against the Environmental Protection Agency, arguing that the EPA is overstepping its bounds and that decisions regarding environmental impact should be left to each state’s individual control. Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives just passed a bill that would curb the EPA’s limits on carbon emissions, which would reduce the direct impact that the EPA can have on the energy industry. The bill is now currently in the Senate, but doesn’t have a timetable for voting and will most likely be rejected or vetoed should it pass the Senate. (1) This uncertainty for the coal sector of the energy industry means that even though the production of coal may be underground, the future success of coal in the American energy landscape is totally up in the air.
1) Volcovici, Valerie. “US House Advances Bill Curbing EPA Power Plant Emissions Limits.” Reuters. Reuters, 6 Mar 2014. Web. 7 Mar 2014.
2) Colaneri, Katie. “A Shift in PA’s Energy Market as Two Power Plants Move Toward Closure.” State Impact. NPR, 4 Oct 2013. Web. 7 Mar 2014.