One thing the coal industry seems to get, but that isn’t yet common public knowledge, is how fragile it is. It’s a filthy relic of the 19th century and a rational society with a free and open energy market would have ditched it already. It has survived almost purely based on inertia — its stranglehold on the political process and the persistence of various myths (like, say, the myth that it can be cheap and clean, or the myth that we can’t meet our needs with renewables).
As those myths meet reality and the U.S. starts taking global warming seriously, plans for new coal plants are running into resistance, as chronicled in this Washington Post piece from Steven Mufson.
It can’t be overstated how important it is for people to rise up in opposition to coal now. Once there’s a price on carbon, it will be clear to everyone that new coal is grossly expensive and counterproductive. The coal industry is racing to get as many plants as possible built and grandfathered before climate change legislation hits:
"There is a slug of projects, maybe as many as 40, that are desperately trying to get their permits, and we are doing everything we can to make sure those investments don’t happen," said Bruce Nilles, a Sierra Club lawyer. "Once you do an honest assessment of global warming and the threat it presents … these coal plants are the worst legacy we can leave to the next generation."
Meanwhile, we hear the same old lines from the same old industry shills:
"In fast-growing areas, there’s a need to build coal plants," said Frank Maisano, a lobbyist with Bracewell & Giuliani, which represents a variety of coal firms and utilities. He said that while coal opponents had won "a victory here and there," coal remains "an important part of the diverse fuel supply that we have. … We have to use coal and use it as cleanly as possible, and environmentalists are going to have to live with that."
We "have to" use coal exactly as long as people believe we have to. But this is a free country, Frank. We don’t have to keep your industry alive if we don’t want to.