What New EPA Regulations Mean for the Future of US Coal

The Biden administration requires coal-fired plants to slash emissions or shut down

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Every Monday, in “Climate on the Ballot,” we pass along a topic to help you integrate climate into your newsroom’s campaign reporting. Consider sharing this newsletter with your colleagues on the politics beat. Vea la versión en español de “El clima en la boleta.”

This Week: Coal Regulations

The Inflation Reduction Act, President Joe Biden’s landmark climate law, provides as much as $800 billion, according to updated estimates, for investments in lower energy emission technologies, renewable energy projects, and consumer tax breaks. Those are carrots of Biden’s climate policy.

Last week, the administration used its sticks. The Environmental Protection Agency issued new rules restricting climate pollution from coal-fired plants, the dirtiest energy source there is. In 2022, coal made up only 20% of the electricity generated in the US, but accounted for some 55% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to Heatmap. Now, local news outlets have an opportunity to cover which plants are affected — and how state legislators will respond to new rules that will likely be challenged in the courts.

Reporting Ideas

  • Are there coal-fired plants in your state, and what is their status? There are about 230 active coal-fired plants in the US. According to a Heatmap analysis, 43 of those are scheduled to shut down by 2039, leaving about 190 with “either partial retirement plans or no plans at all that will be forced to make a decision between carbon capture and shutting down.”
  • Help your audience understand the new regulations. Coal-fired plants and national gas plants must “control” 90% of their carbon pollution by 2032, according to the new rules. For decades, the coal industry has been saying it would use carbon capture and storage to reduce emissions. The IRA includes plenty of funding for it — and now there’s a deadline for implementing that unproven technology.
  • How are states planning (or not planning) to support communities after coal-fired plant are shut down? Some states, including Colorado and Illinois, have passed policies to support a just transition for communities to help coal workers find new jobs, shore up tax bases, and clean up toxic waste. Find out what’s happening in your state.
  • Ask candidates whether they support just transition policies to transition communities away from coal. In Colorado, for example, Republican state legislators first voted against legislation that would establish the Office of Just Transition (OJT) within the state Department of Labor and Employment. But after the bill passed and money began flowing into their communities, they’ve started voting to boost program funding. Meanwhile, the majority of Montana legislators refuse to imagine a future without coal and no policies to transition jobs and the economy away from coal have been proposed. Investigate where your state officials stand and why.

Take Inspiration

  • Heatmap digs into two main issues surrounding the new coal rules: “Utilities have to figure out how to replace lost power generation, and the surrounding community must reckon with the lost tax revenue and jobs from the power plants and the coal mines that supplied them.”
  • NPR’s Ari Shapiro visits Keyser, W. Va., to talk with community members of the former coal mining town about its new wind farm and the challenges that former coal miners face in finding work in the clean energy transition.
  • The Los Angeles Times’ Sammy Roth visits the community surrounding a coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., that supplies electricity to Portland, Ore., and Seattle, Wash. Locals are worried about their livelihoods and the town’s future. As the nation transitions to clean energy, what do big cities owe these small towns and the people who work in them?
  • Wyoming is the biggest coal-producing state in the nation. Governor Mark Gordon is committed to cutting emissions and keeping coal plants open with a pledge to make the state the leader in carbon capture. The state’s Republican Party, however, is opposed to any climate action, and issued a rare vote of “no confidence” in Gordon, reports E&E News.
  • Several diehard coal industry supporters from both parties are leaving leadership positions in Congress at the end of this year, and although the industry still has some political supporters, Politico reports that these departures dim coal’s future.

Spotlight Piece

ABC News embedded with an environmental group canvassing in Pittsburgh to turn out climate-motivated Americans who don’t vote. “Our biggest problem in the climate movement right now [is] we don’t have enough voting power,” Environment Voter Project founder and executive Nathaniel Stinnett said.