Coal / Energy

A great day for coal? Not exactly.

Why the Supreme Court’s strange EPA decision won’t matter as much as people think

In this May 22, 2014, file photo, Wesley Simon-Parsons, civil and environmental supervisor at Dominion Terminal Associates, stands near piles of coal at the company's coal terminal in Newport News, Va. Hundreds of people across the country lined up Tuesday, July 29, to tell the Environmental Protection Agency that its new rules for power-plant pollution either go too far or not far enough. The agency is holding hearings this week in Atlanta, Denver, Pittsburgh and Washington on President Barack Obama's plan to cut carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent by 2030, with 2005 levels as the starting point. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

In this May 22, 2014, file photo, Wesley Simon-Parsons, civil and environmental supervisor at Dominion Terminal Associates, stands near piles of coal at the company’s coal terminal in Newport News, Va. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

WASHINGTON, DC — “It won’t get as much attention as today’s perplexing Supreme Court decision blocking mercury limits for coal-fired power plants, but the government quietly revealed last Thursday that the U.S. electricity sector has reached a major milestone. Coal, America’s number-one source of power since the feds began keeping track in 1949, fell to number two behind natural gas in April.

Meanwhile, the latest official data on power generating capacity suggest the trend away from coal is only accelerating. In the first five months of 2015, U.S. utilities added 2.1 gigawatts of new wind and solar capacity, 1.2 GW of new gas capacity, and 0 GW of new coal. As I wrote at length last month, the question is not whether the U.S. coal industry will continue to decline, but how fast.

Today’s 5-4 Court ruling has been framed as a dramatic victory for coal, but the truth is it probably won’t do much to arrest that decline. Industry officials and Republican politicians have hailed the decision as a harsh rebuke to President Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency, and the majority opinion authored by the acerbic Justice Antonin Scalia certainly reads that way. But it’s ultimately a narrow decision that should have a relatively modest impact on the U.S. grid.”

— Michael Grunwald, Politico

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