Sierra Club says coal retirements have been vital to CO2 reductions

An unprecedented wave of coal plant retirements have yielded deeper carbon dioxide (CO2) reductions in 2015 than what had been envisioned in the failed Waxman-Markey bill, the Sierra Club said in a recent white paper.

As a result, the nation will meet the CO2 reduction targets laid out in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Power Plan possibly before 2030, the Sierra Club said in the white paper, which was actually dated November 2015.

“In partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and our allies, we have helped to retire 41,978 megawatts (MW) of coal-fired electricity generation capacity since 2010, including 15,760 MW thus far in 2015,” the Sierra Club said in its analysis.

The Waxman-Markey bill, officially known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 would have set up a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gas emissions. The House of Representatives narrowly passed the bill in June 2009 – when that chamber was controlled by the Democrats. The measure, however, never passed the Senate.

The Sierra Club said in the white paper that its Beyond Coal Campaign was successful in stopping 90% of the new coal plant applications between 2002 and 2010.

This effort, combined with the retirement of scores of existing coal power units, has greatly decreased CO2 emissions, according to the white paper.

The Rhodium Group estimates that 2015 U.S. electric sector carbon emissions will total 1,983 million metric tons (MMT). This is the lowest level of carbon emissions since 1995, the Sierra Club said. The same firm estimates that 2015 economy-wide emissions will be approximately 5,357 MMT. This is approximately 150MMT below levels for 2015 required by the Waxman-Markey bill.

Thanks to about $80m in financial backing being provided by Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign is now setting a new target. The Sierra Club says its new goal is “locking in the replacement of half of the U.S. coal fleet with clean energy no later than 2025.”

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.