Natural Gas Ambush Killed Off Coal Mining Industry, Not Obama's 'War on Coal'

Coal got mugged by natural gas, not regulators.

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Way back in 1991, Jesse Ausubel, head of the Human Environment Program at Rockefeller University, predicted that humanity would be following the "light path" toward progressive decarbonization of our primary energy consumption. "For 200 years, the world has progressively lightened its energy diet by favoring hydrogen atoms over carbon in our hydrocarbon stew," he noted. Humanity had been following a trajectory of fuels in which the ratio of hydrogen to carbon atoms kept increasing, moving from wood, to coal, to oil, to natural gas and, ultimately, Ausubel argued, to burning pure hydrogen.

In Ausubel's scenario, climate activists drop their objections to nuclear power which would generate enough electricity at night to crack open water to produce hydrogen as a transport fuel. Well maybe. In any case, the United States has been decarbonizing its primary energy sources with the result that the country's greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 were 9 percent below 2005 levels.

So why is the U.S. economy decarbonizing? Because of Obama's regulatory "war on coal" or because of technological progress? Researchers at the Great Lakes Energy Institute at Case Western Reserve University have just published a study in The Electricity Journal that traces the prices and fates of natural gas versus coal in the production of electricity. As the researchers point out, the regulations under which the electric power generation industry operated were adopted in the 1990s and only changed this past summer. However, the number of coal-fired generation plants started declining around 2008 as cheaper natural gas from shale fracking revolution began to come onto the market. The Case Western Reserve University press release outlines the case:

Between 2007 and 2015, shale gas prices dropped almost in half, positioning natural gas to outprice coal mined in four of the five U.S. coal regions…the benchmark gas prices ("Henry Hub" prices) in the past four years [have been] cheaper than the coal of the two regions in Appalachian for over 88% of the months. Further, gas has been cheaper than the coal of Appalachia, Illinois, and the Rockies for over 57% of the months. Even the cheapest coal, in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, competes poorly in the great population centers east of the Mississippi once rail transport of $0.03 per ton-mile is considered. That prompted investment in pipelines and gas storage infrastructure that have made gas even more competitive.

ScienceDaily further reports:

Consumption of coal continued to grow under those 1990-era EPA rules until 2008, and then went into steady decline, dropping by 23 percent from 2008 thru 2015.

The data show the drop in those years to be correlated with the shale revolution, as natural gas production increased by a factor of more than 10 and its price dropped in half, the researchers say. And, due to the continuing—and in some cases accelerating—technological and economic advantages of gas over coal, the decline in coal is expected to continue at least decades into the future.

"Some people attribute the decline in coal-generated electricity to the EPA's air-quality rules, even calling it 'Obama's war on coal,'" said Mingguo Hong, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Case Western Reserve and co-author of the study. "While we can't say that the EPA rules have no impact—as, for example, discouraging the building of new coal power plants because of the expectation that tougher air-quality rules will clear the courts—the data say the EPA rules have not been the driving force."

Hong, co-director of the Electricity Systems Research Lab at Case Western Reserve, and Walter Culver, a founding member of the Great Lakes Energy Institute Advisory Board at the university, say the data show that shale-gas competition is what's been hurting coal as of today. They expect that, as wind and solar sources of electricity continue to improve, they will be tough competitors to coal in the not-distant future. …

"If you're a power plant operator and you see gas supply is continuing to increase and natural gas can do the job cheaper—by a lot—the decision to switch from coal is pretty easy," Culver said. "As we look toward the future, we see no natural mechanisms that will permit coal to recover," Culver said.

Largely thanks to the shale gas revolution, the U.S. does appear to be treading Ausubel's light path toward energy decarbonization. Coal got mugged by natural gas, not regulators.

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  1. “While we can’t say that the EPA rules have no impact — as, for example, discouraging the building of new coal power plants because of the expectation that tougher air-quality rules will clear the courts — the data say the EPA rules have not been the driving force.”

    So they have had an impact. I am pretty sure making it impossible to build new coal plants is a pretty significant impact. If there is a bigger weasel word than “driving force” it is hard to name.

    Gas is cheaper if you have access to a pipeline. If you factor in the cost of building the pipeline, gas isn’t as cheap. And not everywhere has a pipeline. Those places of course are stuck building them thanks to the EPA basically outlawing coal plants.

    This is a very poorly reasoned post.

    It of course has the added bonus of this

    They expect that, as wind and solar sources of electricity continue to improve, they will be tough competitors to coal in the not-distant future.

    That is just laughable. And it makes me take everything these people say with a giant grain of salt. Anyone who is dumb enough to claim that, clearly has an agenda and clearly cannot be trusted with their opinion about coal.

    1. That is just laughable.

      Not really. Once the government has regulated the price of hydrocarbons to parity with solar and wind and regulated new production out of possibility, then the magic of the market takes over and suddenly solar and wind are viable energy alternatives. And then Bailey can write us an article explaining how solar and wind won out due to technological efficiency rather than regulations on account of energy producers are literal retards who cannot anticipate new regulatory burdens and adjust their business plans accordingly, as he’s done here.

      1. Even the advocacy group walks back from the claim. That, however, doesn’t deter Bailey. Bailey just loves anything that comes packaged as ‘new technology”. He would agree to move to a maximum security prison if he thought doing so was a new technology that was going to make like easier and increase his lifespan.

        His constant “life is so much better because we live so much longer now” posts are a bit ironic coming from a self professed Libertarian. Bailey can’t seem to admit that perhaps freedom is independent of technology and that there is more to life than being comfortable and long lived.

      2. Wait, what? The wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. How can intermittent technologies be competitive without some breakthrough in large energy stores? Didn’t a whole state in Australia have an outage due to wind recently?

        1. “How can intermittent technologies be competitive without some breakthrough in large energy stores? ”

          They can’t. Beyond afternoon peak load shedding, both wind and sun are highly intermittent. Beyond the 20-30% grid penetration range, they’ll require large scale short term storage. Any deployment beyond that range has to add the costs of storage onto the costs of renewables.

          Personally, I think that’s the path will eventually take, but it’s going to be a 50 year build out. Not these pie in the sky 10 to 15 year projections that are based on a poor knowledge of both economics and engineering.

          1. they’ll require large scale short term storage

            And when you consider the costs and environmental effects of constructing such, that is fucking insane. It is just insane.

            1. “And when you consider the costs and environmental effects of constructing such, that is fucking insane. It is just insane.”

              The costs are significant but not ridiculous. Roughly 0.5 to 1.5 cents per kWh on the low end and 2 to 4 cents per kWh on the high end.

              The environmental effects are minimal. Pumped hydro storage is the most common and all it requires is two water reservoirs at two different elevations. The requirements are less environmentally destructive than building a damn for reference. And if that’s too much for someone, then they need to go become a hermit in a cave.

    2. But since solar and wind aren’t there yet, and are still a tiny percentage of energy production, doesn’t that support the idea that it’s mostly about natural gas? People are still using energy.

      It’s mostly about natural gas and fracking. That is where we’ve seen the shift in production. Anyone who simultaneously supports fracking and thinks that we can “bring back coal” while doing so cannot be trusted with their opinion about coal or nearly anything else.

      1. Pretending as if actual and anticipated regulations didn’t distort market prices for coal, which likely benefited natgas, is retarded though.

        As long as my shit turns on when I plug it in, I couldn’t care less how the power company produces it, up to and including building a big old nuclear plant across the street. I just don’t think it’s useful to pretend as if you’re witnessing a pure market phenomenon when there were obvious non-market forces also at play. If we had anything approaching an undistorted market in energy, coal and natgas would have been supplanted by various nuclear technologies half a century ago.

      2. It’s mostly about natural gas and fracking.

        then it is also about government regulations. “Mostly” doesn’t mean much of anything concrete other than “not all”. Further, you assume it is about fracking because you assume that the only part of the calculation is the cost of gas today. And that is just nonsense for the various reasons explained on this thread.

        1. Is anyone actually claiming that it is all one thing or the other?

          Obviously, it’s a combination of factors, including current and future regulation, that has changed the use of coal.

      3. And anyone who thinks we can get rid of coal and limit fracking are living in a dream world.

    3. Maybe you should use some actual facts to refute the article, instead of waving your hand and typing a lot of froth.

      1. Maybe you should try reading the article and understand that it doesn’t stand by its own terms. The advocacy group themselves admit there is more to it than the price of gas today.

        Moreover, as has been pointed out up and down this thread, there is a lot more to what is going on than just the current price of natural gas. If you don’t like those facts and they give you a sad, well too fucking bad. Life is like that sometimes.

        1. No John, you can’t get away with just more hand waving. Next you’ll accuse me of being in love with Ron Bailey.

          Here’s some areas you fall short in:

          Gas is cheaper if you have access to a pipeline. If you factor in the cost of building the pipeline, gas isn’t as cheap. And not everywhere has a pipeline.

          s/pipeline/railroad/g and see how well that stands up.

          This is a very poorly reasoned post.

          With nothing to back it up, just the bare assertion. Why don’t you indicate some poor reasoning instead of just assert it?
          Neither Ron nor what he quotes says fracking is the only reason for coal’s decline, only that coal began its steepest decline as fracking came into effect, before Obama had a chance to make coal plants more expensive. You don’t say anything about that. All you did was say that fracking wasn’t the only factor, which, duh, is obvious and was mentioned.

          1. Gas is cheaper if you have access to a pipeline. If you factor in the cost of building the pipeline, gas isn’t as cheap. And not everywhere has a pipeline.

            Pipelines cost a lot of money to build and are a pain in the neck to build. Moreover, it is not just the pipeline, it is the cost of building a new plant. EPA basically outlawed coal plants and made companies switch to gas. The fact that gas turned out to be cheaper at the moment doesn’t make that switch any less artificial. The cost of retiring a good plant and building a new one means gas isn’t cheaper absent the EPA. And once again, the study Bailey sites to admits as much. Try reading my post again only this time understand the words

            While we can’t say that the EPA rules have no impact — as, for example, discouraging the building of new coal power plants because of the expectation that tougher air-quality rules will clear the courts — the data say the EPA rules have not been the driving force.”

            1. Jeezus, John, can’t you even read? The decline started before Obama had a chance to ban coal plants. It happened when fracking started, and natural gas is a lot cheaper because of that, and if that’s not a natural effect of markets, what the hell is? What do you want, coal subsidies to make it competitive again? Is that your idea of natural?

              Maybe you ought to try reading the article you are so quick to condemn.

              And I doubt railroads are cheaper than pipelines, which can be buried and don’t have all that rolling stock.

          2. Neither Ron nor what he quotes says fracking is the only reason for coal’s decline, only that coal began its steepest decline as fracking came into effect, before Obama had a chance to make coal plants more expensive

            Would coal have declined some? Sure. But it would not have declined nearly as much. And it certainly declined more as a result of this. Those regulations did real harm. And Bailey is citing a hack organization to try and deny that.

            Go play fanboy somewhere else. This is a terrible post.

            1. Their study says the cheapness of natural gas started coal’s decline before Obama could ban coal plants. What more proof do you want?

              You say the opposite. Show me your proof.

              Go play stupid somewhere else. You’re a terrible poster.

              1. Next you’ll accuse me of being in love with Ron Bailey.

                Go play fanboy somewhere else.

                Close enough, I’d say.

  2. “The United States has been decarbonizing its primary energy sources with the result that the country’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2014 were 9 percent below 2005 levels.”

    This is item #2 on my current list of most underreported facts.

    #1 being that around 87% of income taxes are paid by people who make more than $75,000 a year.

  3. Yeah I’m certain both regulation and competition played a part in the coal industry’s decline. FULL DISCLOSURE: There is both natural gas and a healthy amount of coal under my property. They have fracked the gas out and spent nearly a decade getting all the environmental ducks lined up to start tunneling mines, but last year the company finally decided the it wasn’t financially worth it. (Rumor was that the only buyers would have been the Chinese at this point.)

    1. “Yeah I’m certain both regulation and competition played a part in the coal industry’s decline.”

      Yeah it’s hard for me to believe that actual regulations passed, as well as anticipated crackdowns on the industry in the future, didn’t have at least some effect in boosting natural gas as energy source over coal. And I think that’s still the case whether you favor those regulations or not.

  4. But did video kill the radio star?

    1. Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh seem to let video off the hook.

  5. If it’s already true that the coal patient is dying on its own, then why does Obama need to come in and put a pillow over its head to hasten the job?

    If you believe this, you probably also believe that every single month is really the hottest month ever in earth history.

    1. If they don’t wave their arms around and proclaim that they are doing it, then public schools won’t be able to tell kids that Mighty Obama saved the environment just like FDR saved the economy.

    2. If it’s already true that the coal patient is dying on its own, then why does Obama need to come in and put a pillow over its head to hasten the job?

      Because liberals love to use government to try to hasten jobs that the free market is doing on its own, so that they can then claim credit for everything?

      You might as well argue, “if it’s already true that the free market and businesses will try to avoid poisoning their customers, why does Obama need to come in and issue expensive food safety regulations?” “If it’s already true that racism and homophobia is bad for business, why do liberals fight for laws to imprison people who refuse to sell to gays?”

      There are tons of things throughout US history where the laws and regulations were agitated for and passed only after the free market already started to deal with the issue, and indeed plotting trend lines shows no effect of the federal legislation. There’s a decent argument in many cases about whether the trend would have continued without government intervention (perhaps the free market picked off the easy cases and the law was necessary for stragglers).

      Your opinion, however, that if a politician proposes a law than there’s NO WAY that the free market would have been doing the same thing seems anti-libertarian.

      1. Because liberals love to use government to try to hasten jobs that the free market is doing on its own, so that they can then claim credit for everything?

        Yeah. They can claim credit and not do too much damage since that’s they way things were headed anyway.

    3. If it’s already true that the coal patient is dying on its own, then why does Obama need to come in and put a pillow over its head to hasten the job?

      They’ll go out of business soon enough, anyway.
      The feds are just going to help the industry along… one regulation at a time.

      1. Regulations bankrupting entire industries is apparently okay, as long as the industry had it coming anyway.

        1. Well, they should have donated to OFA.

        2. Did someone say that?

    4. If it’s already true that the coal patient is dying on its own, then why does Obama need to come in and put a pillow over its head to hasten the job?

      Because the government leads from the rear.

      Gun deaths were declining in Australia when they passed the restrictive gun laws.

      Drunk driving deaths in the US were declining due to social pressure when the US started passing restrictive DUI laws.

      It’s a lot easier to pass a law when what you’re banning is on decline.

  6. Gas is a good fuel,and coal has it’s place also as does nuclear. Solar and wind are a pipe dream .They are not on demand and take huge government subsidies to make a buck.\ Then there’s the resources and large amounts of land needed to build them. Then again,the greens hate gas as much as coal and Obama and Hillary think the country,no,the world,can be powered on ‘renewable energy’. Of course ,lots of oil and gas will be used producing the needed concrete ,steel ,plastic and other chemicals and compounds.

  7. I wish Bailey had talked with power plant engineers on the coal vs. gas economics driven by regulation–Mercury emission control being one example of an expensive add on. Uncertainty about carbon taxes, cap and trade and the like also drive decisions away from coal

    Why is it always professors and “studies” with this guy?

    1. That’s how big government loving, “Top Men” loving, Obama loving liberals tend to roll. Professors are the shit, man!

    2. They play a role, but the uncertainty affects gas as well. The mercury part is big, mostly because it affects older plants instead of grandfathering them in as has been done in the past decades.

      I can see how people might defend the grandfathering in of old plants, but certainly there’s a decent argument against unequal treatment of very old plants. (Is it “fair” to let a decades old coal plant be exempt where a new gas (or coal) plant would not be?)

      1. There is more to the cost of something than the price today. Yes, gas is cheaper today. But there is no guarantee it will always be that way. When you make a decision to build a power plant that will have a useful life of 40 or 50 years or more, you consider a hell of a lot more than just the price of the fuel today.

        All things being equal, it makes sense to use coal even if it is more expensive today. Maybe you don’t want to spend the money for a pipeline. Maybe you figure the price of coal is more stable and you don’t want to bet on gas staying this cheap forever.

        You can’t just ignore all of this and say “well gas is cheaper today therefore coal is doomed”, which is what you are doing and what Bailey is doing above.

        1. J: If fuel price today is not particularly relevant, what about capital costs? The Institute for Energy Research (a group that is definitively NOT against fossil fuel use) notes in its calculations of the levelized cost (including capital, fuel, and transmission) of new electric power generation that conventional combined cycle gas costs (eyeballing it) are about 60 percent of that for conventional coal. Just saying.

    3. If only the commentariat had an actual practicing coal power plant engineer that it is literally dealing with this exact issue right now, who would actually be happy to discuss some of these critical details they kindly glossed over…

  8. Here’s another idea people don’t think about: hydro.

    Among the problems with hydro, you get a lot of political resistance because of the perception that dams harm wildlife in our rivers, flood other people’s property, etc.

    Part of the response to that is that the hydroelectric dams we already have are underpowered.

    “According to a United States Department of Energy report,[11] there exists over 12000MW of potential hydroelectricity capacity in the US existing 80,000 unpowered dams. Harnessing the currently unpowered dams could generate 45 TWhr/yr.”

    http://tinyurl.com/ju3h2f5

    12,000 MW is the equivalent of adding all of the following electric capacity: Bath County PSP, Chief Joseph Dam, the Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant, the John Day Dam, the Hoover Dam, and the The Dalles Dam. That’s six of our seven largest damns.

    Or, you might think of it as adding approximately two more Grand Coulee dams.

    Normally, if investing in upgrades made sense, you’d expect utilities to invest in upgrading them. Unfortunately, some 80% of our hydoelectric dams are owned by the government. If those dams were privatized, owners would be motivated to maximize profits. That’s what makes investment happen.

    1. I suppose I should apologize at this point. Some of you are so convinced that there aren’t any capitalist solutions to climate change, that you think any mention of climate change is necessarily socialist. Some of you may be so far gone in such “anti-socialism” that you don’t want the government to privatize its assets if it’s done in the name of fighting climate change. Observations like those in this post may be too sensitive for such people’s tiny little minds, and maybe I should have given you a trigger warning.

      1. Some of you are so convinced that there aren’t any capitalist solutions to climate change,

        A solution, capitalist or otherwise, presupposes a problem. That’s the fundamental difference of opinion. But, yes, the belief that there is no capitalist solution to this problem is just another “tell” that climate change isn’t about saving the planet, its about growing the government.

        1. “A solution, capitalist or otherwise, presupposes a problem.”

          The government owning and operating hydroelectric dams would still be a problem even if climate change weren’t.

          Certainly, anyone who opposes privatizing the government’s assets because they’re against socialism . . . is horribly conflicted.

          1. Since the government owns all navigable waterways (and most non-navigable waterways, thanks to the EPA), even privatizing ownership of the dams wouldn’t completely solve the problem since they would always be subject to lease or egress restrictions by the government. When they decide they need to blow up your dam to accommodate salmon migration, it doesn’t really matter who makes the turbines turn.

            1. Just because a problem can’t be completely solved, doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

              And government ownership of productive assets is a problem by itself that is solved by privatizing those assets.

          2. You are right Ken. It would be better if the government didn’t own those dams. That, however, has nothing to do with Climate change.

            Here is the bottom line. If you believe in the fantasy that carbon is somehow changing the planet for the worse such that it is a real externality, then the only “capitalist” solution to that is to raise the price of carbon via taxes to ensure that it reflects the actual cost of producing it. Believing in climate change necessarily means believing that energy produced by fossil fuels is priced artificially low due to the externality of carbon emissions. So, any market solution to that is necessarily going to involve raising the price of fossil fuels to reflect that externality.

            That is great and wonderful if you believe in that bullshit. It is however nothing but the government destroying wealth if you don’t. And most people on here do not believe that bullshit.

            1. “If you believe in the fantasy that carbon is somehow changing the planet for the worse such that it is a real externality, then the only “capitalist” solution to that is to raise the price of carbon via taxes to ensure that it reflects the actual cost of producing it.”

              That is one side of the equation–the demand side. There is another side of the equation–the supply side.

              The supply side is basically what Bailey is pointing to in this article. Coal wasn’t supplanted because regulators crushed it with taxes. Coal was supplanted because fracking technology flooded the market with cheaper natural gas on the supply side.

              Taxes would be addressing the solution from one side–but fewer taxes would be needed to achieve the same result if the electricity market were flooded with new hydro capacity that didn’t cost the taxpayers a thing to upgrade.

              1. The supply side is basically what Bailey is pointing to in this article. Coal wasn’t supplanted because regulators crushed it with taxes. Coal was supplanted because fracking technology flooded the market with cheaper natural gas on the supply side.

                First, that is not true. Even the study Bailey quotes admits as much. Second, even if it were true, so what? That doesn’t make AGW any more real or its beliefs any less destructive.

                If gas is cheaper, than use gas. But you use it because it is cheaper not because of some fantasy about it producing less carbon.

                1. You need to quote what you’re talking about.

                  Yes, gas is cheaper. It’s cheaper than coal for a number of reasons. For one, natural gas extraction is less labor intensive, but that was always true. The reason it wasn’t as cheap before was because 1) we didn’t know there were huge quantities of the stuff within our reach right below our feet and 2) we didn’t have the fracking technology to reach it. Once we solved those two problems, the market was flooded with cheap natural gas, and that is why natural gas is so cheap and why it supplanted coal.

                  There isn’t much that’s cheaper than natural gas. Hell, when I’ve run the numbers myself on using geothermal heat pumps, they make economic sense in displacing every energy source–except natural gas, the stuff is so damn cheap. But if there’s one thing that’s cheaper than natural gas, it’s gotta be hydroelectric dams that covered the costs of their construction decades ago. You don’t even have to get that water out of the ground like natural gas. That water just flows and flows and flows.

                  1. Once again Ken, there is more to the cost of gas than the current price. That is explained up and down this thread. Gas isn’t the cheaper alternative if using it involves replacing a perfectly good coal plant. Gas isn’t that cheap.

                    1. Show me what you’re talking about.

                      Are you talking about utilities reacting to the new mercury standards from last year?

                      Yeah, that definitely made the transition to natural gas more attractive, and maybe there wouldn’t be as much of a sudden surge without that. However, the big transition from coal to natural gas has been going on for ten years. If you’re building a new plant or replacing an old one, chances are you were going with the cheaper fuel source anyway.

                      I might even suggest that regulators wouldn’t be so bold in raising their mercury standards if there weren’t an abundant, cheaper substitute for coal.

                      I have no doubt that those regulations are a contributing factor, and that if the alternative is expensive equipment to filter out mercury from coal, then going ahead and converting to cheaper natural gas makes more sense than it would otherwise.

                      That being said, the cheapness of natural gas is because of a huge uptick in its supply due to fracking–that’s the driving factor here. Regulation may be a contributing factor, but the overwhelming trend would be to switch to the cheapest, most abundant fuel source anyway.

                    2. KS & J: And don’t forget that building a new natural gas plant is much cheaper and faster than building a conventional coal-fired plant. See my link (also referenced above) to the levelized costs from the Institute for Energy Research.

      2. No Ken. We are convinced that climate change is a made up fairytale and any “solutions” capitalist or otherwise are nothing but a waste of resources. The problem is not climate change. The problem is to get energy as cheaply, abundantly and efficiently as possible. Modern day cults like climate change should not figure into the equation.

        1. It’s very rare if 350 million people do something for just one reason.

          Some people vote for Trump for this reason, that reason, other reasons, no reason, . . .

          Many of them may be conflicting.

          Some people like libertarianism because they’re against the drug war, because they want lower taxes, they like free trade–most of those reasons aren’t conflicting.

          I’m not sure I care about whether people want to privatize the government’s assets because of climate change, because of socialism, or because a psychic told them it would be a good idea. Privatizing our hydroelectric capacity would still be a good idea even if none of us had ever heard of global warming.

          And if privatizing our hydroelectric capacity is an alternative to some authoritarian socialist “solution” to climate change, then it’s a way better solution–even if it’s a solution to a non-problem.

          1. I’m not sure I care about whether people want to privatize the government’s assets because of climate change, because of socialism, or because a psychic told them it would be a good idea. Privatizing our hydroelectric capacity would still be a good idea even if none of us had ever heard of global warming.

            The problem is that they don’t just do that. They end up doing a lot of other crazy shit that is a lot worse than the government owning a few dams. So, no, you don’t want people supporting the odd right thing for a really wrong reason.

            Come on Ken, if people wanted to stop bailing out the banks because they thought the Jews controlled all of them, would you be okay with people of good conscience letting that idea go unchallenged because “who cares why people want to stop bank bailouts, stopping them is a good thing”? I don’t think so or I certainly hope you would not. It is the same thing here.

    2. Among the problems with hydro, you get a lot of political resistance because of the perception that dams harm wildlife in our rivers, flood other people’s property, etc.

      Bit of an understatement considering that there’s a huge push right now to rip out all of the country’s hydroelectric dams with a former president leading the charge.

      1. I’m sure there are conflicting voices within the environmentalist movement on the topic. There are conflicting voices within the environmentalist movement on nuclear! Some people in the environmentalist movement want nuclear power despite the environmental problems with nuclear waste–because they think saving the world from CO2 emissions is worth the trade off.

        Given that hydro doesn’t have a nuclear problem, if we’re only talking about upgrading existing dams, I bet there’s more support for that within the environmentalist movement than there is for nuclear.

      2. I’d add to this to that:

        “The Energy Department and its Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a renewable energy resource assessment today detailing the potential to develop new electric power generation in waterways across the United States. The report estimates over 65 gigawatts (GW) of potential new hydropower development across more than three million U.S. rivers and streams ? nearly equivalent to the current U.S. hydropower capacity.”

        —-Department of Energy

        http://tinyurl.com/zmd4ofr

        All our choices involve trade offs. Even those environmentalists who think we should just learn to live without so much electricity are trading off a certain amount of political support for their preferred solution. Can new privately financed, carbon free hydro plants be sold to enough environmentally minded voters as a solution to climate change?

        Maybe. Depending on how those dams are designed, their impact on wildlife may actually be so low that environmentalists like them better than nuclear.

  9. The marginal yield of production in deference to hydrocarbon derivatives in a flat-scenario uptake configuration suggests it was all Obozo’s fault. But hey, I have no dog in this fight.

    1. The marginal meaning conveyance of word salad additions suggests that you have been partaking of something mythical.

  10. So, by your ‘logic’, Ron, if the government restricted any further expansion by Uber, but not Lyft, and Uber goes bankrupt as a result of this then that’s the free market?

    Electric producers did not move to natural gas, because it was cheaper (building a new natural gas plant and decommissioning a coal plant is not a cheap endeavor), they moved because government regulation (federal and state) made operating a coal plant a costly bureaucratic nightmare.

    This article is your typical ‘Reason libertarianism’- find something that’s ‘hip’ with the Left and then sell it by adding buzzwords like ‘free markets’, even if it makes no sense. Who cares that poor regions of the country are just going to get poorer because there are no coal jobs? The poor are icky

    1. Electric producers did not move to natural gas, because it was cheaper (building a new natural gas plant and decommissioning a coal plant is not a cheap endeavor), they moved because government regulation (federal and state) made operating a coal plant a costly bureaucratic nightmare.

      There is more to the cost of “gas” than just the current cost of natural gas. And Bailey ought to understand that. It is just lousy writing and shallow thinking on his part. I don’t understand why they do this shit sometimes.

    2. building a new natural gas plant and decommissioning a coal plant is not a cheap endeavor

      Powerplants don’t last forever; that’s why depreciation is a thing. As coal plants aged out, they’ve been replaced with natural gas plants instead of new coal plants. The regulations likely sped up this process by moving up the point where replacement costs were less than the upkeep of the existing plant, but it would have happened eventually.

      1. You mean things don’t last forever? Who knew?! /sarc

      2. it would have happened eventually

        Why?

        Yes, plants age. Yes, they need to be replaced past a certain point. But you can replace an old coal plant with a new coal plant.

        The switch from one source of fuel to another reflects other factors besides plant depreciation.

      3. They effectively do last forever, if you want them to. You just maintain them. The cost of building an entirely new plant is huge. Meanwhile the cost of maintaining an old one is not that great. You only replace the old when, when the cost of maintaining it and the cost of the lost efficiency of whatever a new one would give you exceeds the cost of building a new one.

        Coal plants would have if the EPA not been involved remained online and useful for decades into the future. And there is nothing to say that the price of gas might not someday go back up or that the cost of mining coal might not go down.

        Given the cheap price of gas, it seems unlikely new gas plants would have been built, but the existing coal plants would have kept running absent the EPA.

        We know this because cheap gas has also hurt the price of Uranium fuel. Yet, no one is shutting down nuclear plants to build gas ones even though strictly speaking, gas is cheaper than nukes right now.

        1. Yet, no one is shutting down nuclear plants to build gas ones even though strictly speaking, gas is cheaper than nukes right now.

          Don’t give the NIMBYs and anti-nuke cultists ideas.

        2. They effectively do last forever, if you want them to. You just maintain them. The cost of building an entirely new plant is huge.

          Cars last forever if you maintain them. It’s just as the car gets older the maintenance costs increase to the point that the net present value of expected maintenance is more that the cost of a new car.

          Yet, no one is shutting down nuclear plants to build gas ones even though strictly speaking, gas is cheaper than nukes right now.

          But they are. There’s 10 nuclear plants in the US that have been decommissioned because they reached the point where maintenance was more costly than the plant was worth, and 18 more and in the process of decommissioning:

          http://www.nei.org/master-docu…..facilities

        3. J: As SD points out you’re wrong with regard to the price pressure that natural gas generation is putting on nuclear power plants. New York is now essentially subsidizing its nuclear plants to maintain its supplies of no-carbon electricity.

  11. “Largely thanks to the shale gas revolution, the U.S. does appear to be treading Ausubel’s light path toward energy decarbonization. Coal got mugged by natural gas, not regulators.”

    Ronald Bailey, this not true. I’ve talked to too many people in the industry before 2008. Most companies were highly reluctant to invest in new expensive scrubbing equipment because they were afraid the EPA would make the rules so tight that it wouldn’t matter and they’d be stuck with a lot of useless equipment.

    Coal plants were in a holding pattern. When Natural gas became cheap all of the capital went to natural gas plants (the safer investment) and the coal industry went from stagnant to collapse.

    The coal industry was mugged by the EPA and then Natural Gas joined in later.

    1. Bailey ignores the cost of switching to gas. In many places companies decommissioned perfectly functional coal plants to build new gas burning ones. I don’t care how cheap gas is today, there is no way in hell it is cheap enough to economically justify building an entire new plant unless the government intervenes to make it so.

      The other issue that is not mentioned is price regulation. Utility rates are regulated in many places. The companies get a set profit no matter what their costs. So absent EPA regulations, what incentive did they have to switch to gas even if it was cheaper?

      1. J: You might want to consider these data: Based on the “Platts UDI Electric Power Plants Data Base,” about 1,400 coal-fired power plant units are presently operational in the U.S. About half went into operation before 1970 and are therefore at least 40 years old. These older coal-fired units have an average power plant net efficiency of roughly 32 percent.

        The 2012 American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) report cited above was even then calling for the construction of new coal-fired generation to replace old coal-fired generation. Natural gas came along and that idea faded away.

    2. This. Obama essentially came in right out of the gate saying “I intend to put you out of business”, so it’s hardly surprising that they decided to pretty much take him at his word.

      Of course, these kinds of policy effects and externalities don’t have to be explained to real libertarians, but you can’t have an honest argument with someone who’s fundamentally dishonest.

  12. In Ausubel’s scenario, climate activists drop their objections to nuclear power…

    I’ll take “things that will never happen for a thousand, Alex.”

  13. Ever notice how the TEAM RED people who complain about regulations on coal plants never complain about government subsidy of the coal industry (aka investing in “clean coal” technology)?

    1. No. Because I don’t like that either. Regardless, that doesn’t make these regulations any better. If you have a good defense other than “Leave Obama and Ron Alone” give it.

    2. Ever notice that no one praised the “clean coal” bullshit?

      So the government forces 90% of the coal plants to shut down and props up the other 10%. Clearly, the latter part is far more important and must be what libertarians devote all of their effort to complaining about.

      1. And anyone who says something bad about Obama’s regulations is just a team red shill.

    3. Here’s an idea: get rid of both the EPA and the Department of Energy entirely. Defund them both, terminate all their employees, and shutter the buildings.

      What do you think of that one, Mister TEAM BLUE?

  14. So can Obama take credit for curbing global warming or not?

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