By: Katie Pfeifer
According to US Energy Information Administration (US EIA), more coal plants in the US were retired in President Trump’s first 2 years in office than the whole of Former President Barack Obama’s first term. This is despite lawmaker’s and Trump’s efforts to “revive” the industry, one of Trump’s key campaign promises during the election. Recently released data shows more than 23,400 MW of coal fired power plants were shuttered in 2017-2018 compared to 14,900 MW shut down between 2009-2012.
This shouldn’t be too much of a shock, since coal has been on the decline since 2011, when the industry hit its peak. Coal will continue to decline as inexpensive natural gas and renewables, as well as consumer demand for cleaner forms of energy generation. In 2017, Energy Secretary Rick Perry ordered a grid study to asses the stability and reliability of our nation’s grid, with a focus on renewables effecting the reliability of the grid. The results of the study pointed to cheap natural gas as the culprit for the retiring coal and nuclear plants. The study as concluded that closure of said plants does not affect the grid negatively, in fact, the grid is more diverse and reliable as ever.
Still after the release of the study, Trump ordered Perry to stop the shutdown of coal and nuclear plants by creating a plan to order grid operators to favor certain plants, in the name of national security. The plan would also exempt those plants from environmental regulations and laws. It would cost billions for the plan to work and would only cost more as time goes on. The health impacts of the plan would be harmful for people and the environment. Luckily, the plan was shot down after push back from utilities and lawmakers.
Coal is not only economically inefficient, it’s downright dangerous and detrimental to human health. Coal mines are known to be dangerous workplaces, in 2010 an explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia killed 29 miners. In 2017, 15 coal miners were killed due to accidents in the workplace. The health of miners and surrounding mine communities is in decline along with the industry. According to research, mortality rates, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and birth defects are all increased in and around areas that mine coal. In 2014, Researchers made a link between the toxic dust from mountain top coal removal and growth of lung cancer cells in nearby communities. As the cost of renewables plummet, a bigger shift towards clean energy has started and will continue for generations to come.