Coal’s value proposition these days is this: 1) It is cheap, and 2) it is getting cleaner so it’s OK to use. Point 1 is hard to argue with; it is artificially cheap though getting more expensive. Point 2 is easy to rebut — coal itself is no cleaner than it ever was. But people are slowly waking up to the dangers of coal and demanding that the burning of it actually get cleaner. (Those people include the EPA.) Turns out, though, that making it cleaner 1) isn’t 100 percent effective, and 2) raises the cost of coal. It’s a conundrum!
The best part is that the mandated and socially desired push to get coal cleaner introduces new points of pressure for people who want to phase out the use of coal, something that must be deeply annoying to coal companies (and, therefore, amusing to everyone else).
Case in point: an action in Indianapolis last week. The public utility, Indianapolis Power and Light, needed to upgrade some coal-burning power plants to bring the promise of "clean coal" a microscopic bit closer to reality. But activists rightly note that it's ridiculous for ratepayers to bear the cost.