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Coal has been a mainstay of economic growth and human well-being in the United States and advanced countries around the world for more than a century. Coal powered the Industrial Revolution and enabled the United States to electrify in the twentieth century, creating the most prosperous and free nation in human history.

Even today-135 years after the first coal-fired central power station was built in New York City-coal supplies roughly one-third of the electricity generated in the United States. But coal’s future appears uncertain. Competition from low-cost natural gas, rules imposed on coal-fired power plants by the Obama administration, and subsidies to renewable energy have forced into retirement hundreds of coal-fired power plants around the nation.

The war on coal was very real.

The war on coal was led from the White House and backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from left-wing foundations including the Rockefeller Brothers, Energy Foundation, and MacArthur Foundation to environmental activist groups including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Natural Resources Defense Council. Just one donor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg, has given more than $168 million to the Sierra Club to support the effort.

While running for president in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama told the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle that under his cap-and-trade proposal, anyone who wanted to build a coal-fired power plant could do so, but it would bankrupt them. Obama said “electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket” under his plan.

As president, Obama was never able to enact cap-and-trade legislation, so he sought other ways of “skinning the cat.” He directed EPA to draft a series of regulations that would adversely and dramatically affect coal-fired power plants as a means of fulfilling his campaign promise to fundamentally transform the energy makeup of the United States.

Obama’s war on coal had its intended effect. More than 250 coal-fired power plants were retired between 2010 and 2017, taking offline more than 34,000 megawatts (34 gigawatts) of power generation capacity. Coal’s share of U.S. electricity generation fell from 50 percent of total generation in 2008 to 31 percent in 2017. Reduced demand resulted in significant job losses in the coal industry, a matter discussed in the third Policy Study in this series.

Retiring the nation’s coal-fired power plants increases electricity prices because on average, existing coal plants generate electricity more affordably than the new plants that replace them. Additionally, retiring the coal-fired power fleet puts the reliability of the grid at greater risk. Low-priced natural gas is an attractive option for generating electricity, but prices and availability can fluctuate, which is why prudent public utilities usually want electricity from a mix of sources, including coal.


Trump is ending the war on coal.

As part of his America First Energy Plan, Trump has vowed to end the war on coal and work instead to protect and expand energy freedom. His administration has made good steps in that direction, including revoking or reconsidering unnecessary environmental regulations, withdrawing from the Paris Accord, and retracting the deeply flawed “social cost of carbon” estimates used to justify regulations.

Importantly, the Trump administration also dissolved the inter-agency group that has produced the highly biased and alarmist National Climate Assessments, and is placing independent scholars on EPA’s scientific review boards, replacing some members who have financial conflicts of interest.

See our Energy Freedom Score Card to see how the Trump administration is doing, and what remains to be done.

Ultimately, the administration will need to rescind the “endangerment finding,” the underlying foundation of regulations built up during the Obama years if Trump is to succeed with his energy plan and prevent activist groups or future administrations from undoing his work.


We Need Your Help!

Here are five ways you can help end the war on coal and other fossil fuels:

1. Get informed. Use the links in the navigation bar at the top of this page to find news articles, research, commentary, and videos about why the war on coal and other fossil fuels is a war on freedom and must be stopped. Watch videos from Heartland’s America First Energy Conference to see who is leading the fight for energy freedom.

2. Educate your friends, relatives, and colleagues by sharing links to the research and commentary to you find on this site. Ask them to join you in ending the war on coal.

3. Write or call your elected officials, at the local and state and federal levels, and tell them you oppose the premature retirement of coal-fired electrical plants. Tell them you support President Trump’s America First Energy Plan.

4. Use the sign-up widget at the upper right of this page to join our Energy Freedom Action Team, a group of concerned citizens willing to help us communicate with civic and business leaders, elected officials, and journalists about why we must protect our energy resources.

5. Make a special tax-deductible contribution to The Heartland Institute so we can continue our educational efforts on this vitally important issue. Go here to make a donation today.

Join the Energy Freedom Action Team

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