Yes, it’s no surprise that WildEarth Guardians would like to see a coal-fired power plant that can’t comply with the Clean Air Act shut down rather than see it continue to pollute.
After all, we yank licenses from people who repeatedly violate traffic laws. Why wouldn’t we do the same with polluters that put our air at risk?
But what of a coal-fired power plant that can comply with the Clean Air Act? Should they all be shut down?
Well, from a practical standpoint, yes.
The evidence showing that coal plants cost more than the benefits they provide is mounting. Not only have more and more economic studies confirmed this, but as The Economist reports in its latest edition, coal is certainly on the decline. And news of more coal-fired power plant retirements just keep coming.
The question then becomes, should we spend more money on making coal clean, or invest that money in energy that’s clean from the start?
Case in point is here in the West, where dozens of aging coal-fired power plants are facing multi-million dollar clean air upgrades. Take the San Juan Generation Station in New Mexico where Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM, is facing the prospect of spending hundreds of millions of dollars to make their coal-fired power plant cleaner than it is now.
Or take the Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, which the U.S. Interior Department says retrofitting with up-to-date clean air controls could “significantly increase water rates” for indigenous communities in the Four Corners region and Arizonans dependent upon the water pumped by this coal-fired power plant.
Sure, we need clean air, and we certainly need water, there’s no doubt about that. But with the mounting liability of coal, the smarter choice seems to be to change course and start investing in energy that’s clean from the start. And with the President himself calling for a national clean energy standard that will lead to a sharp reduction in coal use, the writing seems to be on the wall (true, there’s devils in them clean energy details, but the bottomline is it would mean less coal).
For the San Juan and Navajo Generating Stations, this means charting a path away from coal as soon as possible, rather than saddling New Mexico and Arizona citizens, as well as indigenous communities in the Four Corners region, with the cost of clean air upgrades that ultimately the debt of more coal.
This isn’t radical environmentalism, folks. This is the plain and simple truth that coal carries liabilities that in this day of age, just aren’t acceptable. As recent Colorado College polling data confirms, westerners overwhelmingly support clean energy over coal.
It’s one thing to violate the Clean Air Act. That’s reprehensible. It’s another to violate the laws of common sense.
As the liability of coal continues to mount, then yes, it makes sense to shut down coal-fired power plants and invest in a better way to generate electricity. For those of us in the American West that cherish clean air and water, the shift can’t come soon enough.
The reality of coal.