The EPA and some European countries are on the warpath against coal. Technology exists to capture most of its emissions, so coal burning is not the dirty process it was decades ago. But coal is the main CO2 culprit in the climate change (aka global warming) debate. Some have no doubts: coal must be eliminated.
But it is not going away. The sober folks at the Energy Information Administration project coal usage will remain much the same in the decades to come, as will use of other fossil fuels.
New Source Performance Standards adopted by EPA mean no new coal-fueled utility plants will be built in the United States, and existing plants are being shuttered as compliance with rules that apply to them grow ever more costly.
It is likely a stroke of dumb luck from the EPA's perspective that the natural-gas boom, which the federal government has done nothing to help, came along in time for gas to be there to replace some coal usage in U.S. electricity generation. We are fortunate to have the natural-gas bonanza, but it will not change the world energy landscape.
It is hubris to think that what is done in the United States is the same as in the rest of the world. We are a declining fraction of world energy use. We shut down a few coal plants, but China, India, and other growing nations are building them at a far faster pace than we shutter them. It is estimated that more than a thousand coal-fueled utilities are under construction or planned in other countries. They do not have the ability to fund costly nuclear plants and do not have the blessing of fracking, so they go with old reliable coal.
Committed environmentalists want to block the sale of plentiful American coal to foreigners, as if that would stop them from using coal. We have the largest coal stock in the world, but it is a common commodity, so restricting sales only hurts our economy; it has negligible impact on energy production in the rest of the world.
Cross-posted from the Bush Center's Economic Growth Blog.