Coal decline due mostly to cheaper natural gas, less electricity demand and renewables

Environmental Rules Played Minor Role in Coal’s Decline

Environmental and climate regulations that cut pollution from coal-fired power plants have played only a minor role in the decline of the coal industry, which has been hurt mainly by expanding use of natural gas and less demand for electricity, according to a Columbia University report published this week.

U.S. coal use fell by about 30 percent between 2011 and 2016. The paper attributes about half of that decline to low natural gas prices, 26 percent to falling demand for electricity and 18 percent to growth in renewable energy such as wind and solar. Only 3.5 percent of the coal industry’s decline is due to environmental and climate regulations that took effect prior to 2016…

…“The idea that environmental regulations are killing the coal industry is wrong on many levels,” Koomey said. “If the administration promotes natural gas and fracking, the consequent low gas prices will make it increasingly difficult for coal to compete.”

Cheap natural gas, along with quickly-dropping prices of wind and solar power and a decline in global demand for coal, means that coal is being edged out of the market, he said. “Coal is not coming back, and the sooner we move on to cleaner electricity generation technologies, the better it will be for the U.S. and the world,” Koomey said.

REPORT:  Trevor Houser et al Can Coal Make A Comeback? April 2017 Columbia University