Northeast Pennsylvania knows too well the economic pain inherent in the decline of a dominant industry. Its recovery from the loss of anthracite coal mining is a work in progress nearly 70 years after the industry’s last gasp here.
So empathy is in order for communities across Appalachia and the West that face the new, much broader decline in coal.
Due to economics rather than regulation, as demonstrated in a new analysis by the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, coal is losing in the marketplace.
Yet, politicians who profess fealty to the markets believe that they can revive coal by eviscerating environmental regulations.
If regulation were the driver, the Yale analysis points out, coal prices should be higher to reflect compliance costs. Yet prices for coal and coal-generated electricity have been flat for more than a decade. The irreversible problem coal faces is that prices for multiple renewable sources and, especially, cleaner natural gas, have plummeted over the same period and are projected to continue that trajectory.
Since 2007, the amount of coal used to produce power in the United States has declined by 39%.
All of the fuels, renewables and natural gas, have the advantage of being less-polluting than coal, regarding acquisition of the fuel itself and its use to produce electricity. The Trump administration claims that technology can make coal just as clean, but that technology is unproven. And even if it works, its implementation would increase the cost of coal, putting it at an even greater disadvantage against its competitors.
According to the study, the cost of a megawatt hour of electricity from onshore wind is $58; it’s $71 for utility-scale solar and $92 for coal. For “carbon-capture” coal, it is $151.
Clearly, the government’s focus should not be on diminishing environmental protections covering coal production and power generation, but on helping communities caught in the market-driven inevitability of coal’s demise.
— The Scranton Times-Tribune