The Dernogalizer

May 12, 2009

The Death of Coal

I had a column out a day early on Monday about how coal’s sun is setting in America, largely thanks to a growing environmental movement.  Enjoy!

Environmentalism: The movement’s spreading


Issue date: 5/11/09

The coal industry has been running commercials since the presidential election joyfully touting that coal supplies 50 percent of America’s electricity. These commercials are outdated and untrue. According to the U.S. Energy Department, coal supplies 48.9 percent of America’s electricity. I’ll show you why the details matter.

Four of my closest friends are conservatives. Traditionally, support for regulating industry’s greenhouse gas emissions falls along party lines. Over the past couple years, I’ve been surprised to find three of these friends have come around to my viewpoint on this issue. Two of them lobbied with me on environmental legislation. Another referenced a column of mine in a college essay on why America needs to transition to a clean energy economy to avoid catastrophic climate change. And if I was referenced in a paper, the world really is in jeopardy.

I arrogantly assumed this shift was limited to my friends because my crazy environmentalism had rubbed off on them (and because I can blackmail them). But a snapshot from a recent poll suggests otherwise. Eighty-five percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Americans under 30 and 64 percent of Republicans support government regulation of greenhouse gases. A seemingly controversial issue is not even a close one. The most incredible number is almost two out of every three Republicans want regulation. I frequently tune into Fox News ,where commentators and news desk make it appear the planet is cooling and regulating emissions will wreck the economy. It hasn’t worked. 

This has been reflected in our energy policy. About 200 coal plants have been proposed since 2000. Since 2007, 95 of these proposals have been canceled or postponed, and nearly all of the remaining proposals are on hold. Most of this took place during a coal-happy Bush presidency. It’s not getting any prettier. In contrast, wind power grew by more than 8.5 gigawatts in 2008 and solar more than 1.2 GW – record growth during a contracting economy. The wind industry now has more jobs than the coal mining industry. For the first time in forever, the environmental movement is winning in the United States.Students at universities all around the country, including students at this one, have been on the forefront. I remember two years ago when an outgoing state senator and the director of an environmental nonprofit group came to the university to talk to 50 students about global warming. They said that some day, the state would pass a global warming bill. It seemed far off. This semester, students played a role in passing one of the strongest global warming bills in the nation right here in Maryland. Today, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) will come to the university before hundreds of people for a clean energy town hall meeting. Part of the discussion will be about when the United States will pass a strong global warming bill. I see the paradigm shift in only two years. 

The details matter. They tell a different story than the commercials. The coal industry is trying to outrun the facts, but they are catching up quickly. We are witnessing the death of coal. A word for the coal industry: Coal might supply ALMOST 50 percent of America’s electricity, but your years are numbered. You are approaching zero. 

Matt Dernoga is a junior government and politics major. He can be reached at

*Update 5/14/09* Here is an excellent op-ed largely supporting the % numbers and conclusion I write about above.

**Update 7/20/09** It’s now DOWN to 46.1 percent!.

**Update 8/19/09** Down to 42.6%!


  1. […] movement is growing, another reason if you’re a polluting industry, you should get with the […]

    Pingback by American Values Network « The Dernogalizer — May 13, 2009 @ 5:55 pm | Reply

  2. […] couple of months ago, I wrote about the impending death of coal given the trends.  One of the citations was the fact that so many coal plants had been canceled […]

    Pingback by 100th Coal Plant Canceled since 2002 « The Dernogalizer — July 9, 2009 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  3. […] in 2009 Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 5:41 pm Tags: coal Looks like the death of coal to me.  This is from the Sierra […]

    Pingback by No New Coal Plants in 2009 « The Dernogalizer — December 21, 2009 @ 5:41 pm | Reply

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