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EPA Inflicts Mortal Wound on King Coal

The big news of the week was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule to limit greenhouse gases from existing power plants, a move that is intended to reduce carbon pollution by 30% by 2030. The regulation is a colossal move for the electric power sector, one that will overhaul the makeup of America’s power plants and strikes at the heart of the coal industry.

EPA chief Gina McCarthy went to great lengths to emphasize the fact that states will have flexibility to meet the targets, using both efficiency on site, but also investments in “beyond the fence” measures such as offsetting pollution by investing in renewable energy.

The mixed reaction by the electric power industry to the June 2 announcement was telling. Utility executives liked the fact that the EPA rule was not rigid; it gives broad leeway for them to find the cheapest way to achieve emissions reductions.

But more importantly, the mixed reaction was the result of how the EPA rule will create an interesting division of winners and losers. Utilities that have invested in renewable energy will be positioned well to meet the targets. Ditto for holders of nuclear power. Interestingly enough, the EPA’s plan depends heavily on a huge increase in consumption of natural gas – so natural gas generators were not exactly outraged at the limits.

The clear and unambiguous loser is coal. Coal producers, owners of coal-fired power plants, and their investors…

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