The times, they are 'a changing
The coal industry and its congressional allies contend that stronger environmental regulation by the Obama administration constitutes a war on coal.
Advocates on the other side of the issue might characterize the regulatory regime as a war for cleaner air. But, in any case, the real battle being waged by the coal industry is in the marketplace, where it is losing to natural gas.
Power utilities began switching from coal to natural gas concurrently with the vast expansion of deep horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing that has opened formerly inaccessible abundant reservoirs of gas. They have shuttered inefficient older coal plants and opened much more efficient gas-fired plants. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, nearly 9 percent of the nation's coal-fired power plants will close by the end of 2017, after which the pace of closures will accelerate.
And there are other factors. New gas fields have resulted in expansion of pipeline networks, making gas more available. As gas prices have fallen, the wholesale price of power has fallen with them, further enhancing coal's disadvantage.
New EPA rules mandating reduced carbon dioxide emissions apply to new power plants. They might help preclude the construction of new coal-fired plants, but they simply enhance conditions that already have taken root in the markets.