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Coal up and die

REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

Burning coal for electricity continues its steep slide into history.

An electric company in Ohio said on Monday that it would close two coal-fired plants that generate 3,000 megawatts of power. Last week, another company in New Mexico released an economic analysis that suggests it could shutter a 1,800-megawatt plant in five years.

It’s an encouraging trend in an otherwise dismal year for the environment. In January, the owners of the biggest coal plant in the West announced plans to shut it down later this year because it’s just too expensive to keep running. Another in Montana could close this year if a bailout from the state government doesn’t materialize.

What’s driving this? Burning coal no longer makes good business sense. That’s largely because of competition from natural gas, but also because environmental regulations have forced companies to pay for pollution. The result: The country is shifting away from coal power.

Big changes like this are wrenching. These closures will put a lot of people out of their jobs. The coal plants shutting down in Ohio are “by far our largest employer and it will absolutely be devastating to our community here in Ohio,” Michael Pell, a community leader, told Reuters.

An enlightened government might respond by building new, cleaner power plants and retraining workers for green jobs. After all, clean power is now employing more people than coal.