While EPA remains under attack by the GOP-majority House, that doesn’t mean that coal is off the hook. To the contrary, coal remains under attack itself. A number of recent stories demonstrate the multi-pronged effort by those who want to reduce or eliminate use of coal. For example, the Environmental Integrity Project and two Texas-based NGOs just filed suit against the Lower Colorado River Authority's Fayette Power Project, alleging violations of NSR/PSD requirements and exceedances of particulate limits in the plant’s permit. There is no doubt that there is a concerted effort by NGOs to make life difficult for coal. Thus, even if Congress succeeds in muzzling EPA to some extent, citizen suits will only proliferate, unless Congress also amends the CAA and other environmental statutes to eliminate citizen suit provisions.
Next up? A report that TransAlta Corp. has reached an agreement with the State of Washington to shut down Washington’s last coal-fired power plant. The agreement gives TransAlta until 2020 and 2025, respectively, to shut the two boilers at the plant. The story serves as a reminder that, even aside from NGOs, some states are looking to phase out coal-fired generation.
Let’s not forget that coal mining is under attack as well. Here too, notwithstanding Congressional efforts to protect coal mining, NGOs remain active. Daily Environment just reported that a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order against Highland Mining Co., ordering it to stop work on its 635-acre Reylas Surface Mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The suit alleges violations of NEPA and § 404 of the CWA.
Finally, we have the economic side of the issue. One factor coal has always had on its side – until recently – was its cost advantage over natural gas. With that cost difference eroded, simple economics may do what years of environmental enforcement couldn’t. Thus we have John Rowe of Excelon, which, of course, has almost no coal assets, asserting that EPA regulation will not kill coal, but only drive out old, inefficient plants. Heck, we even have the Wall Street Journal asking whether coal is “The Energy of the Past.”
Time will tell, but it is at least plain that the current GOP ascendancy has not solved all of coal’s problems.