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Electricity Markets Increasingly Favor Alternatives to Coal

This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.

The U.S. electric power system is gradually shifting toward cleaner forms of generation. One sign of this transition is the declining use of coal for electric power production. In 2011, coal dropped to its lowest level of power generation in more than a decade, according to the U.S. government’s independent Energy Information Administration (EIA). In fact, the EIA recently reported that coal’s share of U.S. electric power generation fell below 40% for the last two months of 2011, the lowest level since 1978.

To understand the cause of this decline, it is important to examine the underlying market forces. Doing so provides important context for recent coal plant retirement announcements, particularly given that some companies have attributed retirements to EPA rules that are still years away from going into force. For example, FirstEnergy Corp. announced in late January 2012 that it would retire several of its smaller coal-fired power plants, explaining that the decision was “based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), which were recently finalized, and other environmental regulations.” FirstEnergy, however, had previously cited a range of reasons for its decision to reduce operations at many of its smaller coal plants.

EPA: Insurance for a Cleaner Future

This piece originally appeared in the National Journal Energy and Environment Experts Blog.

EPA’s newly proposed standards are an important step toward addressing the threat of unmitigated carbon pollution in altering the climate. EPA’s action will ensure that power suppliers consider greenhouse gas emissions before building any future power plants. Moreover, this lays the groundwork for future U.S. policies and action to address climate change.

The proposed standards set an emissions standard of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per Megawatt-hour— slightly more carbon intensive than combined cycle natural gas plants built today. New coal units could comply with the regulations by committing to capture and store a portion of their carbon dioxide emissions or, where feasible, by using waste heat through combined heat and power systems.

Senators, EPA Administrators, Business and Health Experts Share Perspectives on Clean Air Act at WRI Roundtable

This post was written with Sara-Katherine Coxon, Objective Coordinator at the World Resources Institute.

“Smog was a daily occurrence, something you could taste and see.”

This reflection came from William Ruckelshaus, the first U.S. EPA administrator, recalling the early 1970’s when he worked in the Nixon administration to pass the historic Clean Air Act.

He continued: “The result of this was a public deeply concerned about the environment, and a Congress which gave into public demand by setting federal laws to regulate emission levels.” Ruckelshaus was speaking at a roundtable discussion this week hosted by the World Resources Institute, moderated by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.). The event featured Ruckelshaus and former EPA Administrator William Reilly, as well as business and public health experts.

WRI to Host Discussion on State of the Clean Air Act

On January 23, WRI will host a high-profile roundtable discussion on “The State of the Clean Air Act: Past, Present and Future.” The event will be moderated by Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), and will feature former EPA Administrators William Ruckelshaus and William Reilly, and other speakers.

A Look Back at U.S. Climate Policy in 2011

As the year winds down, it’s a good time to take stock of climate policy in the United States. Here’s a quick round up of what happened -- or didn’t happen -- in 2011.

The year began with big questions about what the Obama Administration and states would do to address climate change and clean energy, absent a comprehensive federal climate policy. This year’s record was decidedly mixed. Not as much happened as some would have liked, but it was in total better than many feared as the year began.

EPA Mercury and Air Toxics Rules for Power Plants: 20+ Years in the Making

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency prepares to release new Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), some people may be wondering about the history and timeline for these standards. One Senator recently claimed that EPA is “charging ahead” with them.

These standards, however, have been in development for over 20 years. These are standards that many plants are already meeting. Furthermore, 11 of the 15 largest coal utilities, roughly half of the nation’s coal fleet, have informed their shareholders that they are well positioned to meet them.

This post unwraps the history, standards, and timelines for compliance.

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