Leslie Glustrom is a long-time coal industry watcher. Zane Selvans is director of research and policy at Clean Energy Action.
As the Environmental Protection Agency moves ahead with limits on carbon pollution from the nation’s coal plants, you’ll hear a lot of industry outrage about Obama’s “war on coal.” Don’t believe it.
The truth is, the U.S. coal industry is already in dire straits, including here in Colorado — and it is due primarily to geology, not politics.
Coal is undeniably a non-renewable substance. We have been mining the easily accessible deposits for the last 150 years, and the planet isn’t making any more on a time scale that matters to humans.
As a result, the U.S. coal industry is in serious financial distress — right now — months, and likely years, before any EPA carbon regulations actually go into effect.
Even if the EPA were to be eliminated tomorrow (not something we advocate), the U.S. coal industry would still likely be largely winding down in the next decade or so.
As the remaining coal has become more difficult and expensive to mine, coal prices to electric utilities have increased significantly over the last decade, but these price increases have not been enough to keep coal company profit margins healthy.
In Colorado, the cost of delivered coal has almost doubled in the last decade, going from an average of 97 cents per million BTU in 2004 to over $1.90 per million BTU in 2013.
During the same 2004-2013 period, Colorado coal production has dropped about 40 percent from a peak of almost 40 million tons in 2004 to fewer than 24 million tons in 2013.
The bottom line is that Colorado coal is becoming increasingly expensive to mine, and it is largely pricing itself out of the market.
As Bill Koch said recently about the closing of Oxbow’s Elk Creek mine near Paonia, “The coal business in the United States has kind of died, so we are out of it now.” It is possible that the Elk Creek mine will reopen, but it isn’t looking like it will happen anytime soon.
For the rest of this article, click here: http://www.denverpost.com/politics/ci_25957845/its-not-obamas-war-coal-its-geologys-war