The coal industry has not fared too well these past couple of years, already shuttering more than 100 coal boilers in the past three years due to stricter federal environmental rules and increased competition from natural gas.
More than 150 coal boilers have been slated for retirement due to regulations and natural gas prices, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that another 263 coal boilers could also be retired in the coming years. By the end of the decade nearly one-quarter of the U.S. coal fleet could be taken offline.
The U.S. coal industry has been under fire from government regulators and environmental activists for being a major source of carbon dioxide emissions, which climate scientists say causes global warming.
Such worries led President Obama to direct the Environmental Protection Agency last year to limit carbon emissions from new power plants, despite the fact that the world has not warmed in the last 17 years. Nevertheless, EPA officials have moved forward with the president’s plan and have proposed emissions limits that would effectively ban new coal-fired power plants from being built, unless they adopt costly clean coal technology.
“President Obama has blazed a regulatory path that wholly excludes input from elected officials in Congress or the millions of Americans who will ultimately foot the bill of his costly rulemaking,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
“Instead, he has chosen to concentrate power within his own administrative agencies and pursue policies that appease campaign donors and radical environmental groups, rather than protect those he was elected to serve,” Sheehan added.
The U.S. saw a small renaissance in coal-fired electricity due to rising natural gas prices and cold weather, which forced the shutdown of gas plants across the country. Last year, coal made up 39 percent of U.S. electrical generation, down from 50 percent from 2003 to 2008, but up from only 37 percent in 2012.
“The alarms sounding from this winter’s arctic weather conditions may foreshadow what lies ahead as looming regulatory deadlines threaten a growing portion of the coal-based power plant fleet,” said Hal Quinn, president of the National Mining Association.
Coal exports have also boomed, even as U.S. coal use declines. The Commerce Department reported that coal companies exported 118 million short tons abroad last year. This is down six percent from 2012, but double what coal exports were in 2006.