Next week President Joe Biden and 13 members of his cabinet will fly to Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the United Nation’s climate summit where he and other world leaders will vie to make the greatest commitments to fight so-called climate change.
The trip comes as domestic crises continue and the coal industry that Barack Obama and now Biden have tried to destroy is making a comeback.
Taxpayer funded National Public Radio (NPR) reluctantly reported the news in a story titled “U.S. coal production is up sharply after hitting a 50-year low last year.”
More than 40 percent of America’s coal comes from the Powder River Basin, a 120-mile swath along the Montana-Wyoming border.
But times have been tough for producers there. Like other U.S. coal-producing areas, the Powder River Basin has seen mine closures and job losses mount in recent years. Production hit a 50-year low in 2020, and 151 coal mines were idled or closed.
“It’s been year after year where we’ve seen decline, decline, decline,” says Joe Micheletti, an executive with Westmoreland Mining, which operates three mines in Montana. “Our hope is maybe we’ve hit the bottom,” he says, “and what we see coming is maybe … that the coal demand is going to be maybe steady.”
James Stevenson of IHS Markit, an energy consulting company, said in the NPR report surging global demand is especially the case in the Asia-Pacific region.
“There isn’t enough coal in China,” Stevenson said. “Japan’s had more coal demand. So there’s a scramble to buy coal from where you can.”
Including from the United States, even if Biden and his entourage will villainize all fossil fuels at the COP26 and tout the president’s radical energy policies in his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and reconciliation bills, even if they aren’t passed by Congress before the trip.
The data NPR and the energy experts are talking about came from the Energy Information Administration, the federal agency that keeps track of U.S. energy production and consumption.
The agency report released in October said, in part:
We expect 22 percent more U.S. coal-fired generation in 2021 than in 2020, according to our latest Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO). The U.S. electric power sector has been generating more electricity from coal-fired power plants this year as a result of significantly higher natural gas prices and relatively stable coal prices. This year, 2021, will yield the first year-over-year increase in coal generation in the United States since 2014.
Coal and natural gas have been the two largest sources of electricity generation in the United States. In many areas of the country, these two fuels compete to supply electricity based on their relative costs. U.S. natural gas prices have been more volatile than coal prices, so the cost of natural gas often determines the relative share of generation provided by natural gas and coal.
Because natural gas-fired power plants convert fuel to electricity more efficiently that coal-fired plants, natural gas-fired generation can have an economic advantage even if natural gas prices are slightly higher than coal prices. Between 2015 and 2020, the cost of natural gas delivered to electric generators remained relatively low and stable. This year, however, natural gas prices have been much higher than in recent years. The year-to-date delivered cost of natural gas to U.S. power plants has averaged $4.93 per million British thermal units (Btu), more than double last year’s price.
The agency does not paint a rosy picture for coal’s future in the U.S., noting that “the electric power sector has retired about 30% of its generating capacity at coal plants since 2010, and no new coal-fired capacity has come online in the United States since 2013.”
“For 2022, we forecast that U.S. coal-fired generation will decline about 5% in response to continuing retirements of generating capacity at coal power plants and slightly lower natural gas prices,” the agency concluded.
And even if the Biden wants to put coal out of business in the U.S., it will continue to be used elsewhere around the world as a means of lifting people out of poverty and improving the standard of living, including in India and China, two of the world’s largest polluters.
The Foreign Policy website reported on India:
To lift millions of people out of poverty, India needs energy—and lots of it. The International Energy Agency predicts that between now and 2040, the country will have the largest growth in energy demand of any country in the world. To meet this demand, India will need to rely on a variety of energy sources—both conventional and renewable. While India has made remarkable strides in developing wind and solar power, coal remains the bedrock of its energy supply, powering 75 percent of electricity generation.
Time magazine reported on coal operations in China:
China is planning to build 43 new coal-fired power plants and 18 new blast furnaces — equivalent to adding about 1.5% to its current annual emissions — according to a new report. The new projects were announced in the first half of this year despite the world’s largest polluter pledging to bring its emissions to a peak before 2030, and to make the country carbon neutral by 2060.
The news shows that at least some in China are prioritizing economic growth over emissions reductions.
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