50,000 MW of Nation's Dirtiest Coal Plants Could be Shut Down


Photo: Richard Harrison, Geograph, CC BY-SA

The EPA is planning on increasing the pollution controls on coal plants -- a move that is being fought tooth and nail by industry and the politicians who support it. And they're fighting for good reason: The new regulations, which, among other things, will clamp down on the amount of toxic pollution (sulfur dioxide, mercury, etc) coal plants can emit, will likely cause a massive wave of coal plant closures -- or hefty, hefty fines -- across the nation. Here's Grist's Dave Roberts explaining the situation:

new and emerging EPA regulations are going to force a huge wave of coal-plant retirements ... The regulations will ratchet down standards for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, and other toxics, possibly restrict coal ash for the first time, and possibly require cooling towers (so that wastewater discharge doesn't fry river and stream ecosystems). Oh, and there's also those pending greenhouse gas rules, though their influence will be somewhat less in the short term.

A couple of new reports have filled out more details on these coal-plant closures. I'll take a closer look at one of them, but first it's important to note that this isn't some theoretical, years-out possibility. It's already underway.

He lists headlines from just about every major newspaper that include stories about coal plants already starting to go offline, or utilities that are switching to natural gas power. Evidently, the new regs will cause not only the oldest, dirtiest coal plants in the nation to upgrade or die, but also plants that are a spry 40 years young (which should give you an idea about how old many of the coal plants we rely on really are ...).

He points to a survey from the consultancy firm the Brattle Group, which reports that "emerging EPA regulations on air quality and water for coal-fired power plants could result in over 50,000 MW of coal plant retirements and require an investment of up to $180 billion for remaining plants to comply with the likely mandates." TreeHugger's own John Laumer recently took a look at the same survey, with the conclusion that considering the upgrade costs, renewable energy is the better investment.

This is a good thing. Another recent report found that pollution from coal plants was causing 13,000 premature deaths a year, and was costing states tens of billions of dollars in health care expenditures every year. That's to say nothing of the billions of dollars of non-climate environmental damage coal plants inflict on the US every year. And the loss of these dirty coal plants doesn't mean we're going to be short on power -- many companies will switch to natural gas, and many others will simply make the required upgrades to clean up their plants' acts.

Frankly, this is long overdue. Read Roberts' complete analysis over at Grist.

More on Coal Plants
Coal Plants Do $62 Billion of Damage a Year to US Environment ...
Coal Plants to Close in Colorado, But Expand Around the Nation
US Coal Plants Dump Thousands of Gallons of Waste Into Drinking Water

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