Latest News, WVPA Sharing

DOE report: Gas boom ‘biggest contributor’ to coal decline


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A new U.S. Department of Energy report says that competition from natural gas — not Obama administration regulations — has been the largest reason for the decline of the Appalachian coal industry, offering a conclusion that sharply contradicts President Donald Trump’s rhetoric and the political campaign waged in the region by the mining industry and most local political leaders.

The much-anticipated DOE staff report acknowledges that long-delayed environmental rules meant to implement decades-old emissions standards played a role in the closure of coal-fired power plants, but also places the largest share of the blame squarely on the natural gas boom in West Virginia’s Marcellus Shale and other shale-gas fields across the country.

“The biggest contributor to coal and nuclear plant retirements has been the advantaged economics of natural gas-fired generation,” says the 187-page report made public Wednesday night.

The “Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability” was commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry and has been widely seen as a political move to bolster the Trump administration’s efforts to help the coal industry.

The report was released, though, on the heels of news that the Energy Department rejected an urgent plea from Murray Energy, West Virginia’s top coal producer, to use emergency powers to hold off the closure of additional coal-fired power plants in the name of avoiding what Murray CEO Bob Murray said was an impending threat to the stability of the U.S. energy grid and to national security.

In addressing such issues, the new DOE report does not spell out anything like the crisis that Murray — and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, who has pushed a similar proposal for coal industry assistance — have described.

The report says, though, that while the nation’s bulk power system “is performing reliably” the “current mix of resources, technologies, and loads” leaves the system “volatile.” DOE staff did not make clear recommendations, but the report does contain language that suggests the possibility of easing regulatory hurdles that currently require power plants that make certain kinds of changes or updates to seek government permits and install the latest and best environmental controls as part of those construction projects.

In a cover letter issued with the report, Perry sidestepped making his own specific recommendations, but also hinted at policy changes that could mean rolling back regulations or shifting government incentives in the energy industry.

“It is apparent that in today’s competitive markets certain regulations and subsidies are having a large impact on the functioning of markets, and thereby challenging our power generation mix,” Perry said. “It is important for policy makers to consider their intended and unintended effects.”


See more from the Charleston Gazette-Mail

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address