Why The Coal Industry’s Arguments Against New Clean Air Standards Are Bogus

 

Written by Adam James

A new paper from Dr. Susan Tierney at the Analysis Group confirms that Americans do not have to choose between clean air, a liveable climate, and reliable electricity.

The coal industry has been lobbying intensely against new clean air standards and regulations for carbon dioxide emissions. There are two important takeaways from the report that debunk the coal lobby’s arguments against EPA regulations:

1. Despite coal plant closures, PJM (the largest grid operator in the country) actually exceeded its targeted reserve margin — capacity above peak levels — following its annual auction.

2.Wholesale electricity rates have decreased in since 2009 and are projected to drop 10 percent from 2011 levels by 2015.

The people who operate our grid are doing it reliably and with less coal. Last week, the Energy Information Administration found that coal’s share of electricity generation had dropped from 44.6 percent in Q1 of 2011 to 36 percent in Q1 of 2012. Yet the lights stayed on.

Why It Matters

There are two things consumers want from a utility: to turn on the lights cheaply and to do it without harming public health or the environment.

The idea that we can’t have both is a fallacy. Proponents of coal have conducted a very aggressive (albeit, incorrect) messaging campaign that goes something like this:

1. Coal is cheap

2. Cheap coal makes cheap electricity

3. Therefore, reducing reliance on cheap coal means more expensive and/or less reliable electricity

This argument has come up repeatedly as a reason to reject EPA air quality regulations to limit coal pollution, including the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard (MATS) and the Carbon Pollution Rule. Now, most folks believe that these regulations are important — even if they do lead to slightly higher costs, since public health is a serious concern.

But we don’t have to choose between higher costs and less pollution, as Dr. Tierney explains.

Tierney looks at recent results from PJM’s capacity auction to see the impact of coal plant closures. PJM holds an annual auction where it “procure[s] resources needed to guarantee reliability three years into the future.” These auctions allow companies to competitively bid into the market to secure contracts for future generation.

For coal plants affected by regulation, this will theoretically make their operating costs higher and impact their ability to bid. Other resources like nuclear, renewables, and natural gas would then have the opportunity to step up their market share if they can provide a better deal and reliable delivery. In the auction process, PJM shoots to have 15 percent reserve margin, which is the ability to deliver power over peak demand.

If the coal lobby’s argument against regulation were correct, one of two things should have happened: Either electricity should be more expensive, or it should be less reliable to deliver.

But neither of those scenarios came to be. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: electricity prices based on contracts secured at the auction will actually be 10 percent below 2011 prices, and PJM overshot its capacity margin by 5 percent.

Once again, the scare tactics from the coal industry and its allies have been proven false.

This post was originally published by Climate Progress.

 

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How Deadly Charcoal is Bought and Sold in an African Market

Utah Fights For Clean Air

British Columbia First Nation Goes Green (Video)

 

Photo from calignosus via flickr

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32 comments

Mary Hebblewhite

I glanced at the analysis, and noted that natural gas power resource is one of the reasons -- maybe the maiin reason -- for less use of coal w/o loss of power capacity during peak.
Haven't checked further. However, I've been told from a WV DNR source who is concerned about fracking that much of the fracking and gas industry is owned by coal companies and/or the big investors who own large shares of coal. I've been told that natural gas yields an incredibly high profit margin for the companies-- I guess once drilled, a well takes little more expenditure. Thus the rate reduction, and lack of rate increase to consumers? Meanwhile, though less sooty and dirty, gas burned for power still emits CO2, though somewhat less than coal. Meanwhile, this coal-gas industry is playiing it both ways in miseducating the public: "clean coal" propaganda, the propaganda mentioned in this article re: the costs of diversification that will be passed on to consumers if we abandon 'cheap' coal (it isn't anymore), and also as if it were truly a 'competitor" gas is touted as cleaner than coal (which it is), and the small size of the improvement in climate impact is overshadowed.

Yes. Merchants of Doubt.....great detailed expose. Greg Pallast an investigative reporter tracks capital -- and especially fossil fuel related capitalists --eg., Koch bros -- and their iimpact on government - in his recent book and his previous one, Vultures' Picnic.

Edo F.
Edo F.3 years ago

Great article, and a nice way to look at it.

Cody Lupardus
Cody Lupardus3 years ago

"Merchants of Doubt" is a good book on the environment vs corporations debate. How different corporations do the exact same stunts to get away with their deadly pollution. Tobacco, ozone, nuclear winter, acid rain, global warming, etc.

Cody Lupardus
Cody Lupardus3 years ago

"Merchants of Doubt" is a good book on the environment vs corporations debate. How different corporations do the exact same stunts to get away with their deadly pollution. Tobacco, ozone, nuclear winter, acid rain, global warming, etc.

Cody Lupardus
Cody Lupardus3 years ago

"Merchants of Doubt" is a good book on the environment vs corporations debate. How different corporations do the exact same stunts to get away with their deadly pollution. Tobacco, ozone, nuclear winter, acid rain, global warming, etc.

Nancy B.
N B.3 years ago

thank you

J.L. A.
JL A.3 years ago

Thank heavens for the researchers like Tierney that tell it like it is!

Hartson Doak
Hartson Doak3 years ago

Right on Debbie B.

Terry Vanderbush
Terry V.3 years ago

Alternative energy, remember our power grids are failing fast, then what...............?

Dave C.
Dave C.3 years ago

when you only live for profits today its hard to be truthful and look at the damage you are doing for all the world, today and tomorrow....