A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


Climate Action Plan has Major Implications for Coal

By Brian Sewell

In late June, President Obama announced his administration’s climate action plan. The speech at Georgetown University signaled to Congress that the president was keeping his promise to come up with executive actions to address the threat of climate change, and reignited claims of a “war on coal” in Central Appalachia and nationwide.

The centerpiece of the administration’s plan is an order to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to set limits on the amount of carbon emitted from the United State’s nearly 600 coal-fired power plants.

While there is no promise that the EPA will meet future deadlines, a specific timeline for future rules was included in a White House memo sent to the EPA. The EPA is now required to finalize standards on existing plants by June 2015. States will be given a year to submit implementation plans for the rules.

In the meantime, coal’s future looks increasingly bleak. In July, the World Bank announced it will end the financing of coal plants except in circumstances where there are no feasible alternatives. And Goldman Sachs issued a paper with the blunt title “The Window for Thermal Coal Investment is Closing.”

Following Obama’s speech, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) led a delegation of state officials including West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, mine industry representatives, and union officials to the White House to urge the EPA to scale back its plans to impose stricter rules on both the burning and disposal of coal.

While Gov. Tomblin informed the media that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the receptive attitude of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, he told the Beckley, W.Va., Register-Herald that “if [the EPA] is making policies we can’t live with, then obviously the only alternative we have is to go back to court.”

Where Should Renewables Go?

A recent study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that wind and solar achieve greater health and climate benefits in Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia than in other parts of the country, because they replace the most electricity generated by coal plants. “A wind turbine in West Virginia displaces twice as much carbon dioxide and seven times as much health damage as the same turbine in California,” said Kyle Siler-Evans, a Ph.D. researcher from Carnegie Mellon University.

EIA’s Future: Not Without Fossil Fuels

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released its biannual International Energy Outlook, which forecasts worldwide energy use during the next 30 years. While renewable energy sources and nuclear power will be the fastest growing energy sources through 2040, the report projects that fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, will still comprise 80 percent of world energy use.

By 2040, the report estimates that renewables’ share of world energy use will be 15 percent, up from 11 percent in 2010.

Spruce Mine Veto Upheld, Again

A federal appeals court in July denied Arch Coal’s request to rehear their challenge of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s veto of a permit for a massive West Virginia strip mine. A three-judge panel in April had ruled that the EPA had the legal right to revoke a Clean Water permit in 2011 that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had awarded years before to Arch Coal. The EPA said destructive practices at the Spruce No. 1 mine in Logan County would cause irreparable environmental damage. Arch Coal currently has a 90-day period to file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.