May 21st, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the EPA, Obama’s plans to bankrupt the coal industry quietly go forward

There are so many crises generated by the Obama administration that it’s easy to lose sight of some. But in just a little over a week a probable new one will be unleashed when the EPA announces rules for existing coal power plants, to go with the rules for new plants that were announced last January:

The January proposal sets carbon-emission limits for new power plants fueled by natural gas and coal. It also requires new coal-fired plants to use carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), a technology not in use by any commercial-scale power plant in the US.

In comments filed this month responding to the January proposal, the American Coal Council cited an Energy Information Administration estimate that the capital cost of a new integrated combined-cycle coal plant with CCS would be $6,599/kw.

That’s more than capital requirements for new hydro, onshore solar, wind, and nuclear plants and more than six times the capital cost of a new gas-fired combined-cycle generating plant without CCS, according to ACC.

Even before EPA’s January proposal, low gas prices were discouraging construction of coal-fired capacity. The proposal essentially makes coal-plant construction unlikely regardless of the gas price.

It also gives the coal business reason to expect rugged treatment of existing plants.

The January proposal affects growth. The June proposal will affect cost. If those costs are high, as they probably will be, a recent trend of coal-fired plant closures will accelerate.

Yes, gas-fired capacity will make up much of the loss. But the oil and gas business should welcome none of this.

EPA won’t stop with coal.

This process is happening through the EPA rather than Congress for two reasons. The first is that Obama can’t convince Congress or the American people to approve, so he’s going around both in his favorite manner, though a government agency. The second is that a month ago the Supreme Court gave him the green light to do it that way.

This course of action regarding coal is something Obama has been intent on for many a long year. No one on earth who’s been paying a particle of attention should be surprised, least of all those in a coal-producing states like Pennsylvania who voted for him despite that fact (the first map is of the results in the 2012 election, and the second is the coal-mining counties of PA):



In one of the debates in 2012 Obama falsely presented himself as being a friend of fossil fuels, but that should have fooled no one. Obama had stated his plans for coal back in January of 2008, in an interview which came to light a few days before the 2008 election and which I wrote about at that time in a post entitled “Obama’s lump of coal.” Here’s an excerpt:

But he is advocating an extreme pro-environmental and anti-industry position nonetheless. Rather than banning new coal plants de jure, he plans to drive them out of business de facto, because the environmental requirements of his policies would be so stringent that new plants would be unable to comply and the penalties for noncompliance would be catastrophic. In other words,, any new plants would have to pay penalties so Draconian that they would be bankrupted—and the listener is left to wonder whether even older plants might be required to retrofit in order to comply, and be forced out of business as well.

Obama’s plan is that market forces would dictate that, as new coal production would become impossible, people would be forced to quickly fill in for the lack of power by developing the wonderfully clean alternative sources of energy that he is so sure would be available if only the will were there. We have no way of knowing whether it would work out that way, of course. But in the meantime we could be sure that the economic costs would be very high, as Obama unapologetically states.

This is his position on nuclear power as well…

So the plan was very, very clear very very early in the game, before Obama’s first term.

In the interim, however, a funny thing happened: shale fracking technology has improved and expanded enormously, and with it the ability to extract a lot more natural gas than before. Natural gas is cleaner than coal, and so despite the very strong objections environmentalists have to fracking, natural gas is what Obama and others have come to suggest could be a “bridge” fuel in the interim, until some other sources magically become practical and plentiful. Note that word “magically”; my point in using it is that it is very hard to replace fossil fuels, and nuclear power (which could probably do so to a large extent) doesn’t have the environmentalists’ blessing either.

One of the largest American shale deposits (known as the Marcellus Formation) is located in certain states that also have historically mined coal, such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania, as well as New York and a few others. But New York has banned fracking for years, and there’s been a long-term “temporary” ban in New Jersey as well, and other states may follow suit because of the perceived threat to groundwater, whether they have major shale deposits or not.

New Jersey is not as yet a big candidate for fracking anyway. But in Pennsylvania, where part of the Marcellus Formation lies and where fracking is big, there’s a fairly strong (though so far unsuccessful) movement to ban it as well.

The entire campaign against the coal industry is predicated on the theory of human-caused global warming. Whatever you think about the truth or falsehood of such claims, let’s focus on that word “global” in that warming equation. American coal production and use is actually a fairly minor factor in what may or may not be happening as a result of fossil fuel use worldwide. Unless there’s a worldwide approach, and especially unless India and China are onboard, this is almost inconsequential.

What’s more, burning gas may not really be as much of an improvement over coal as some say. And yet the overall cost of the new coal regulations is probably going to be high, even with the gas alternative.

Depending on the source, this is expected to cost the energy industry anywhere from $6 to $20 billion annually- all costs that will be passed on to utility customers… The Heritage Foundation estimates that once fully implemented, these regulations will cost the country 800,000 jobs- 280,000 in manufacturing alone. Jobs in the coal mining industry are expected to decline by 43%. Because converting plants to natural gas would be a better option for compliance, more of that commodity would be diverted to power plants and the price of natural gas would rise an estimated 42% unless production increased. But, environmentalists are blocking that option with their opposition to fracking.

More here from the Coal Council (which of course is hardly an objective group) about the possible drawbacks of natural gas:

The American Council for Clean Coal Electricity said EPA’s proposal would effectively ban new coal generation, since it will require a technology that is not widely available.

“Banning new coal-fueled power plants is bad energy policy for our nation because it will result in an overreliance on natural gas for new base load generation — a fuel that has a long history of price volatility and deliverability challenges,” ACCCE wrote in its comments.

ACCCE said the rule, also known as New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), would actually discourage CCS development, because companies would no longer have an incentive to build new plants. The group asked that EPA withdraw its proposal and write a new one based on emissions from new plants that do not use CCS.

The National Mining Association (NMA) urged EPA to rescind the proposal, for fear that it would reduce diversity in power supplies.

“EPA’s approach risks overreliance on one power source and jeopardizes the reliability that is inherent in having a diverse energy portfolio,” the NMA said. “NMA cautions EPA to proceed with great care in this rulemaking as it is merely step one of the agency’s plans for regulating the power sector under the [Clean Air Act] to reduce CO2 emissions.”

The Electricity Reliability Coordinating Council said the new rule could be a way to eliminate coal electricity, which would make power less reliable.

“The proposed rule is an example of regulation at its worst in that it attempts to direct market forces with only the vague hope of being able to deliver real benefits,” ERCC said. “Unfortunately, the costs of the proposed rule are very real in terms of limiting future electricity generation options, with consequent potential threats to electric reliability, affordability, and all of the economic and health harms that are associated with those results.”

I freely confess that I’m no expert on energy sources and how they work, either scientifically or economically. But my guess is that out there among my readers there are some who know a great deal about it. You can enlighten us in the comments section.

27 Responses to “Meanwhile, back at the EPA, Obama’s plans to bankrupt the coal industry quietly go forward”

  1. Just Saying Says:

    Obama is a friend to no one, and an enemy to anything Capitalist or useful. He wants the complete and utter destruction of the American Way of Life, and is doing a good job of accomplishing it.

  2. T Says:

    As one can see from the PA electoral map, Pennsylvania suffers under the same burden as New York state; i.e., a far-flung conservative population whose elections are most often dominated by the Progressive enclaves in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, with Philadelphia having the lion’s share of the influence.

    I also question the accuracy of the coal county map of PA. They illustrate the anthracite mining in and around the Scranton area, but the western part of the state has a long standing bituminous coal mining industry much like West Virginia, although not as large. Perhaps those mines are no longer active, or perhsps as active as they once were, but those coal fields were the original source of the Frick and Hillman fortunes.

  3. physicsguy Says:

    “magical” is exactly the right word to describe solar, wind, and all those other “green” energy sources. There is one basic physical reality that limits these energy sources and makes them non-useful for large scale energy production, and thus also uneconomical: that is the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. In its various forms, the one most relevant here is that there is no 100% efficient system.

    The current efficiency of wind is about 40%, and that’s when the wind is blowing. Most wind systems however only output their nominal rated power about 30% of the time. Solar is even worse. The best solar PV systems (and the most expensive) are running at a measly 15% efficiency. Again, that’s when its high noon, cloudless, and in a southern latitude.

    Every engineer and physicist knows this, and I bet so does the Obama administration. So I vote “knave” here…. they know what they are doing. They are trying very hard to energy bankrupt the country, and thus also collapse the economy.

  4. CV Says:

    Writing this from atop the Marcellus shale formation outside of Pittsburgh. Unlike my fellow Pennsylvanians, West Virginians had Obama’s number on this issue early on. They went for Romney by a pretty large margin in 2012.

    I remember having a conversation with one of my many well-meaning but ill-informed liberal friends during the primary season in spring 2012. A graduate of WVU, my friend was mortified that so many West Virginians voted for a convicted criminal who ran against Obama in the Dem primary and had a surprisingly strong showing that year. She thought this made West Virginians look like “dumb hicks,” as they are unfortunately sometimes characterized in this neck of the woods.

    I remember explaining that those WV voters were making a pretty clear statement against Obama’s stated plans to decimate the coal industry. She had no idea. Of course my highly educated, urban friend is one of the reasons that PA is blue. As T notes above, the urban areas around Philadelphia and Pittsburgh overwhelmingly vote Dem. The rest is mostly red, as your map indicates.

    FWIW, coal was indeed a huge industry in Western PA but not so much anymore. These days all eyes are on shale drilling.

  5. Beverly Says:

    I just posted this in the thread above, then saw this one: James O’Keefe is on the same topic, and just released his latest expose today — Hollywood big shots caught in the act of conspiring with one “Mohammed” to make a movie designed to hurt America’s energy industry and help Arab Oil:

    Please pass this along. The media groupie brigade are trying to sit on the story.

  6. parker Says:

    There is only one peaceful solution; an amicable divorce. The blue enclaves go their way and the majority of the land mass which is red goes another way. Wishful thinking, but that would be the ultimate test to show what is sustainable and promotes liberty, and that which does not. Destroying the coal industry is not a part of a sustainable energy system, unless we turn to widespread use of modern fission designs. The only catch is the watermelons hate ‘nukes’ more than they hate fossil fuels.

    “Every engineer and physicist knows this, and I bet so does the Obama administration. So I vote “knave” here…. they know what they are doing. They are trying very hard to energy bankrupt the country, and thus also collapse the economy.”

    That seems to be the only logical assumption to explain the BHO regime’s worship of ‘green’ energy.

  7. Don Carlos Says:

    “Knave” is not a strong-enough epithet for Hussein. He is biulding a case for deserving the same end as Mussolini and Ceaucescu, but unfortunately that happens only after many deaths and much destruction and suffering by the cowering citizenry.

  8. David Foster Says:

    The economic damage of the anti-coal policies will at first be limited because natural gas is (for now) cheap, and nat-gas-fired combined-cycle turbines are very efficient. Nat gas plants also avoid the heavy infrastructure cost (rail or barge connections, coal conveyors, etc) required for coal plants. BUT…and it’s a big “but”….nat gas prices aren’t going to stay at this level forever. Demand increases will be driven by the greatly-increased use of nat gas for power generation; also by the increased use of gas as a feedstock for plastics and chemicals production.

    So must of the harm from this Obama policy may not come until he is out of office…but come it will, though.

  9. Beverly Says:

    The bastard will skate, as usual.

  10. Cornhead Says:

    And the EPA’s legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide comes from a 5 – 4 Supreme Court opinion in 2007 thanks to JP Stevens.

    Congress should amend that law this year and force Obama to veto it.

  11. Ymarsakar Says:

    Most of the loyalists in the American rebellion were either killed, run out of town to Britain, or driven up to Canada.

    Plenty of places in Mexico and Canada that would love educated tax payers. Make real good use of those Ivy League degrees.

  12. Matt_SE Says:

    In addition to physicsguy’s summary of the second law of thermodynamics, there is an additional problem: low energy density.

    The best analogy I’ve heard for energy density goes like this:
    Gold is about $1300 an ounce. If I give you a one-ounce bar, it is immediately worth $1300 to you by exchanging it for money, goods or services.
    If I grind up the bar into dust and spread it over one acre of land, the gold still exists, weighs one ounce and is valuable, but it may cost you more than $1300 to collect it. At the least, the effort will substantially reduce the net value of the gold.

    Wind, solar, tidal and biomass are all so diffuse sources of energy that it requires massive collection apparatuses to concentrate them into useful quantities. These “farms” cost a lot of money to build and maintain, and require massive outlays of energy to produce the structures themselves.

    The benefit of fossil fuels and nuclear is that they are much more concentrated, and nature itself did the work to concentrate it, so we don’t have to.

    This means that even if we substantially increased the collection efficiency, it would still require large amounts of infrastructure relative to fossil fuels.
    And all this in addition to the notorious unreliability of green energy.

    I don’t see how this problem can ever be overcome.

  13. ErisGuy Says:

    Color me shocked that sunlight, exposure, news, talk, mockery, blogging have done nothing to overturn the verdict of the American people, which Obama put best when he said, I won.

    He has his delusions and the votes to implement them.

  14. physics geek Says:

    Building a nuclear plant requires an enormous capital outlay for construction, but the cost of fuel is pretty stable. Absent one short term spike, it’s been stable since the birth of the nuclear age. Natural gas plants, especially the newer dual cycle plants (the heated air used to drive the turbines also go through heat exchangers to create steam for steam turbines) are much, much cheaper to build and can go online with a year from the time construction begins. The problem with a such a plant is that almost all of your cost comes from the fuel, which in this case is natural gas. Now natural gas is plentiful right now and therefore cheap, but as more and more demand is created from a) new power plants and b) exporting LNG to foreign countries, the price is going to jump dramatically. The cheap power generated by natural gas will cease to be cheap.

    Solar, wind, tidal, etc, will never be more than useful supplements to pool of electric power. There is no way in hell that the grid could be powered by those things, unless you shrink the demand by a lot, say around 90% of the population.

    Actually, you can do a back of the envelope calculation on how many solar panels you would need to power the current grid and it’s technically possible. You’d need to cover an area about the size of the state of Ohio. Not sure where you’d put it. Death Valley might be a decent choice due to lots of sunshine, but there’s probably some worm whose habitat would be destroyed, which makes the idea a non-starter. Oh, and solar panels have a 20-30 year lifespan; I believe that they are rated at 80% electricity production at 30 years, but I could be mistaken. The thin-film cells contain cadmium, lead, or selenium, which are not exactly environmentally friendly.

    You want a limitless power supply? Make thorium reactors. In fact, with proper core design, you could slowly replace nuclear rods with thorium rods in existing commercial plants, while waiting for actual thorium plants to go online. There are downsides, of course. If memory serves, what comes out of an irradiated thorium core needs no further enrichment, but is weapons grade material in of itself. Been a few years since I studied it, but I think that’s the case. But with the proper precautions, thorium/nuclear reactors would provide us with energy for the foreseeable future.

    Yes, of course I’m somewhat biased, but I was of the same opinion before I started my current career. I look at how things work and how they could be made to work, not how I really, really, really want them to work.

  15. Ymarsakar Says:

    “I don’t see how this problem can ever be overcome.”

    Room temperature superconductors and more efficient or direct power conversion from atomic piles to electricity.

  16. Ymarsakar Says:

    Solar, wind, tidal, etc, will never be more than useful supplements to pool of electric power. There is no way in hell that the grid could be powered by those things, unless you shrink the demand by a lot, say around 90% of the population.

    The Left plans to ensure that only the 1%, them, get to use rare resources such as gasoline, cars, or medical supplies. The rest will merely have to… suck it up as they die on the vine.

  17. Meanwhile, back at the EPA, Obama’s plans to bankrupt the coal industry quietly go forward | Gradegood Says:

    […] (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({});(adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); There are so many crises generated by the Obama administration that it’s easy to lose sight of some. But in just a little over a week a probable new one will be unleashed when the EPA announces rules for existing coal power plants, to go with the rules for new plants that were announced last January: Read full article […]

  18. blert Says:

    Actually it’s worse that previous posters have already shown.

    Germany has discovered that wind power is so transient that it CAN’T be blended into the grid.

    1) Electric power is distributed everywhere as synchronous three-phase alternating current.

    2) The synchronous character of the alternators causes the system to become an ‘infinite bus.’ This is electrical engineering speak to denote a system that permits entry and exit by various prime movers without disturbing the wave form of the system as a whole.

    3) ALL of the alternative power sources UTTERLY DEPEND upon tracking the existing STABLE synchronous infinite bus, for they’re designed to track it with sold-state electronic means.

    4) Should — for even a second — the system go unstable — then circuit breakers would trip out and the entire nation cascade into darkness. Something like this happened the other year, and all of Italy went dark within moments. It took a full week for Italy to boot up her power grid.(!)

    5) This reality is per the laws of physics. It can’t be designed out or around.

    LASTLY, wind turbines can never be engineered to be economic because wind, itself, is too variable. One is compelled to design any gear to survive terrible weather. This means insanely heavy specifications. Yet, the energy density of even the best sites is terrible. You end up with dead capital — as the heavy engineering sits idle 99.99% of the time — or the device is entirely broken and must be replaced/ reanimated.

    PV arrays are the only alternative scheme that has any hope at all. But they only make sense if sited in ideal conditions — which does NOT include being atop every house in the neighborhood. (Too many roof-fall injuries) (Have you ever seen the Workmans Comp claims for roofing contractors?)

    The end result is that alternative power makes virtually no net benefit to the grid. They only make sense off the grid — and in the sticks.

    PV would actually make more sense in the Alaskan outback. The electricity would be ‘on’ during the active months, exactly when it’s needed the most. It would be competing with small generators running on diesel fuel — even gasoline.

  19. T Says:


    Great comment about energy density. I’ve been casually pointing out that concept for years (not using those terms, though). It’s the “dirty little secret” that the environmentalists don’t want anyone to recognize. I have yet to see it voiced in as succinct a method (and with that great gold bullion example) as you have put it here.


    Your concept of the infinite bus makes sense. I’m marginally familiar with three-phase and your presentation of alternate energy sources relying on a pre-existing (non-alternate energy) grid makes sense. It’s like arguing that socialism can’t economically stand on its own, but only as a parasite to a non-socialist economic system.

  20. Artfldgr Says:

    what we have here is a deficit in undestandint “IMPLICATIONS”

  21. DonS Says:


    There is also solar plants (not PV) that heat water solutions kept underground to run steam turbines. That could possibly work.

    A key issue with solar is that it only produces energy ~ 50% of the day, and max energy about 22%. Further, the amount of energy per sq meter is low.

    PV won’t work because the ability to electric power isn’t there, and probably never will be.

    Nuke plants would be a good option, and would allow us to use the NG and oil for transportation instead of grid power. I think a major part of the cost of a nuke plant is the permitting process with could be reformed, and we could ditch the Carter era restrictions on reprocessing plants.

  22. DonS Says:

    A correction to my post above:

    PV won’t work because the ability to store electric power isn’t there, and probably never will be.

  23. Matt_SE Says:


    Room temperature superconductors could in theory store high-voltage electric power with literally ZERO loss of current over time. Ymarsakar alluded to this.

    The problem is that “high-temperature” superconductors haven’t progressed much since their discovery back in the 1990’s.
    The current record, according to Wiki, is only 133K, or -140 Celsius! That’s a far cry from “room temperature.”

    It may be that room-temp superconduction is impossible. Only time will tell.
    Whoever discovers it (assuming they patent it) would within 10 years be the richest person on the planet, so the incentive is very much there. The fact that there’s been little progress should tell you something about how hard it is.

  24. rickl Says:

    I note that the greens keep promoting electric cars. The government even offers rebates and tax breaks for buying them, and for businesses who install charging stations. But if they were widely adopted, we would need to greatly expand our electrical generating capacity. Yet the same greens are doing everything they can to make electricity scarcer and more expensive.

    Remember the video clip of Obama saying, “Under my plan, electricity costs would necessarily skyrocket.” In what alternate reality would this be a good thing? He may as well have said, “I’m going to force Americans to accept a lower standard of living.”

    As earlier commenters have said, wind and solar simply can’t meet that demand. So I guess the elites will have their mansions and electric cars, while the rest of us proles will have to restrict our electricity use to a few hours per day because we won’t be able to afford to have it continuously.

    I guess it’s as Ayn Rand said, “Don’t bother to examine a folly. Ask yourself only what it accomplishes.”

  25. Enviro Equipment, Inc. Says:

    Being in the environmental remediation business (which includes aspects of the energy industry), we hear a lot about how Obama’s EPA is more about creating policy then it is policing the protection of our environment. Nowhere is this more evident than how they have completely ignored the current state of carbon-capture technology by imposing their crippling regulations on coal-fired power plants. While 10 years from now the technology would probably exist to meet these 10% reduction in carbon emissions, they certainly don’t exist now and the result will be a massive job losses in the coal industry and even lower economic growth than currently exists.

  26. Ymarsakar Says:

    The people benefiting from government monopolies on green energy are Democrats and their lackeys.

  27. Ymarsakar Says:

    The engineering for wind turbines is horrible. A lot of work for little benefit. The simplest and easiest to maintain system is constant input, constant output, at a specific RPM and phase.

    Wind turbines completely mess that up. The system has to be redundant and triple plated merely to handle the normal load. And that’s not even including what happens on the transformer side of things.

    And turbines kill birds, just like PETA executes pets every day of the year. That’s environmental protection for you. The Left’s environment, not your environment.

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