Death of coal fired power plants in US

The Biden administration on Thursday placed the final cornerstone of its plan to tackle climate change: a regulation that would force the nation’s coal-fired power plants to virtually eliminate the planet-warming pollution that they release into the air, or shut down.

The regulation from the Environmental Protection Agency requires coal plants in the United States to reduce 90 percent of their greenhouse pollution by 2039, one year earlier than the agency had initially proposed. The compressed timeline was welcomed by climate activists but condemned by coal executives who said the new standards would be impossible to meet.

The E.P.A. also imposed three additional regulations on coal-burning power plants, including stricter limits on emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin linked to developmental damage in children, from plants that burn lignite coal, the lowest grade of coal. The rules also more tightly restrict the seepage of toxic ash from coal plants into water supplies and limit the discharge of wastewater from coal plants.

Taken together, the regulations could deliver a death blow in the United States to coal, the fuel that powered the country for much of the last century but has caused global environmental damage. When burned, coal emits more carbon dioxide than any other fuel source.

The coal industry in the United States has been on a precipitous decline for over a decade, as environmental regulations and a boom in natural gas, wind and solar power have made it more expensive to burn coal, and power generation has shifted toward those cheaper, cleaner sources of electricity. In 2023, coal-fired power plants generated 16.2 percent of the nation’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, down from a peak of 52 percent in 1990. There are about 200 coal-burning power plants still operating, with many concentrated in Pennsylvania, Texas and Indiana.

Under the plan, coal plants that are slated to operate through or beyond 2039 must reduce their greenhouse emissions 90 percent by 2032. Plants that are scheduled to close by 2039 would have to reduce their emissions 16 percent by 2030. Plants that retire before 2032 would not be subject to the rules.

If these regulations are put into law without being diminished, then almost all coal power plants will be shutdown around 2032.


This means cleaner air, but higher electricity prices to pay for replacements. Especially with increasing demand as for EVs and data centers.

Some wonder if the rule will stand or be challenged in court or rescinded by future govt.

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If you ask the general public, then they would say get rid of get rid of dirty coal and replace it with clean energy generation. Building solar and wind facilities is cheaper than building fossil fuel or nuclear projects. We can keep some coal plants in standby for critical times.

Ie stop “capitalizing the profits, while socializing the costs”.
I like the idea. I’m skeptical though.
“We” are easily upset by “inflation”.

“We” LIKE it when some “costs” are hidden and borne more by “them” than “me”.


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But utilities will see costs rise and ask state regulators to allow rate increases. Then attitudes may change,

The EPA no longer has the authority to limit emissions. In 2022, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Congress did not authorize the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act to devise emission caps.

Again, thanks to the Supreme Court, toxic waste is a jurisdiction of the congress. Maybe if they build a coal fired plant next to the Court in Washington DC, then the court might defer.


EPA has taken a different route to limit emissions from power plants as explained below:

In 2022, the Supreme Court weighed in again and restricted the EPA’s options for regulating power plant emissions. Justices said that without a specific law, the agency cannot force the entire power generation industry to move away from fossil fuels toward less-polluting energy sources.

So, instead, the EPA has created regulations governing individual power plants. The agency and environmental groups believe that will allow the rules to survive scrutiny from a court dominated by conservative justices.

But even if the rules survive a court challenge, a future administration could change it again. That means these regulations likely will be an issue in this year’s presidential election campaign.

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I always laff when “JCs” cry that they need regulatory “consistency”, so they can plan. But those same “JCs” send floods of lobbyists, with checkbooks, to DC, to try to change regulations and laws. So much for their pleas for “consistency”.



States can do as they choose, particularly with regard to businesses located in each of their states. States simply have to require the families of top management to live within an area designated by the state as being appropriate for them (i.e. within the toxic zone of the power plant). The power plants will be “cleaned up” and made as pollution-free as possible ASAP–or be closed by the company because they do NOT want their families living in a known toxic environment.

Eliminating coal-fired power plants reduces CO2 emissions, but not as much as one might think. Shutting down coal plants is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit, and therefore easiest to accomplish. The other two major fossil fuels, natural gas and petroleum, are far more difficult.

When a coal-fired power plant is shut down, it is often replaced with a natural gas plant. Those gas plants are reliable and dispatchable, but also emit large amounts of CO2. The CO2 emissions from natural gas are going up in the US, not down.

Below are the CO2 emissions from the three main fossil fuels, for each year listed. Units are million metric tons of CO2.

Year  Coal  NatGas  Petrol.  Total
2016  1355   1490    2312    5169
2017  1318   1471    2332    5132
2018  1263   1627    2377    5278 
2019  1078   1685    2374    5147
2020   876   1653    2044    4584
2021  1003   1656    2235    4906
2022   939   1742    2250    4939
2023   778   1756    2253    4794

If we take the latest total of 4794 million tonnes and divide by the US population (334.9 million as of 2023), we get 14.3 tonnes of CO2 per capita.

Let’s pretend the coal could be reduced to zero, while keeping natural gas and petroleum products the same. The per capita emissions would then be:
(4794 - 778) / 334.9 = 12.0 tons per capita.

Twelve tons per person is still rather high, compared with other industrialized countries. From Our World in Data, here are a few…

CO2 emissions, 2022, tonnes per person
 United States 14.9 tonnes        
        Canada 14.2 
        Russia 11.4
         Japan  8.5 
         China  8.0
       Germany  8.0
         Spain  5.2
United Kingdom  4.7 
        France  4.6
        Sweden  3.6  

(The numbers from Our World in Data include some minor sources, so it is not just the consumption of fossil fuels. Those additional sources are small, however.)

In summary, coal use in the US is indeed going down, but natural gas use is going up, along with its associated CO2 emissions. CO2 from petroleum products (gasoline, diesel fuel, etc) used mainly for transportation, are relatively flat over the last several years. Eliminating coal will help a little, but the largest emitters (nat gas and oil) keep the per-capita CO2 emissions high.

  • Pete

The EPA can rule on the health of the public in every state. The thousands of Super Fund sites prove that this is true and massive cleanup efforts have been the history of Super Fund sites. Coal fired power plants emit toxins, particulates, heavy metals such as mercury, arsenic & others, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, bromides, and other pollutants. They contaminate the air, the surface waters, and the ground waters. They endanger the lives of people near and far from the power plants.

I do not understand why anyone loves keeping dirty coal fired power plants operating and harming people. That is why so many utilities have already agreed to shutdown their dirty coal fired power plants. There are about 200 operating coal fired plants in the US and half of them have agree to shutdown before 2032.

Power Plants and Neighboring Communities | US EPA)%2C%20and%20other%20pollutants.

Shutting coal fired plants is not just about CO2 emissions. Read my post above about the toxin emissions of coal fired power plants.

Not necessarily. It depends on the price, but in most cases electricity from combined cycle natural gas is cheaper than coal. That’s the real reason why coal use has been declining in recent years.

And nowadays solar PV + storage and onshore wind are even cheaper (obviously not directly comparable). That’s why Texas is adding wind and solar like crazy, It is the cheapest way to generate power. Despite what you might have read on METAR, inflation-adjusted US residential electricity rates have been reliably declining for a long time.


At the same time, California has to get EPA approval for differing vehicle milage requirements, so it doesn’t seem like a straightforward legal situation.


And, more seriously, are concerns about grid stability/reliability.

Much has been written in recent months about the electricity-gobbling nature of hundreds of new data centers and crypto-mining operations being installed around the country, along with the power needs of government-subsidized renewable energy and electric vehicle industrial plants. The North American Electric Reliability Council (NERC) stated in its current assessment that new demands on the grid during 2023 were more than triple those of 2022, and the pace only seems destined to accelerate in the years to come.

“Impartial experts and officials have warned that policies and regulations, especially the new Clean Power Plan, that are designed to force the premature closure of coal plants could trigger an electric reliability crisis,” Michelle Bloodworth, President of America’s Power, told me in an email. “Regrettably, EPA has chosen to ignore these warnings.”…

Jeff Holmstead, the head of President George W. Bush’s air office at EPA said recently that, “There isn’t a single commercial-scale gas-fired power plant anywhere in the U.S. — or as far as I know, anywhere in the world — that uses CCS to control its emissions,” he said. “This fact alone could make it hard for EPA to convince the courts that CCS has been adequately demonstrated.”…

E&E News , part of Politico, recently documented the fact that CCS has been tried at five US coal plants so far with little success…It will certainly be interesting to see how lawyers for the Biden administration argue the rule meets this “adequately demonstrated” test in future court cases.


They are “non-essential” (especially the crypto-mining), which frees up the energy they consume to be redirected to the residential energy sector as needed.

Well, they’re non-essential to you and to me, but I’m sure there would be a massive number of lawsuits filed if they were shut down.