NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Coal Makes A Comeback

June 21, 2001

Coal, the Industrial Revolution-era fuel, seems to have reclaimed a 21st-century future, despite being reviled as recently as a year ago by environmentalists. Power disruptions and an administration that has put a greater focus on energy security than environmental protection has given coal a new lease on life.

  • About 52 percent of the nation's electricity is generated by coal.
  • That figure has remained fairly consistent for five years, but is a big increase over 10 years ago.
  • This year the nation's coal production is expected to reach a record of more than about 1.1 billion tons, about a quarter of which comes from Wyoming, where coal is low in sulfur and close to the surface.
  • Of the new electric generation planned for the United States from now to 2005, as much as 16 percent is to come from coal according to the Edison Electric Institute -- a major increase from a year ago when no coal-fired plants were on the drawing board.

In the past year, natural gas prices have soared, frightening those who saw it as a panacea for electricity. The energy crisis facing California, with a quadrupling in the cost of natural gas, has been a major factor in the utilities' decisions to shift their plants from gas to coal.

And political support has been formidable, with Congressional Democrats from coal states in Appalachia and Republicans from the Rockies joining forces to against the fuel's foes. The Bush administration has also backed away from imposing restriction on carbon monoxide, which would have dealt new setbacks to the industry.

Source: Douglas Jehl, "Fuel With A Dark Past Has A Bright Future," New York Times, June 16, 2001.


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