Death knell?

At last, the US and China—the world’s biggest carbon emitters—move to cut coal

September 20, 2013
September 20, 2013

The two biggest carbon emitters—the US and China—are now both acting to sharply reduce coal smoke. Two days after Beijing announced large cuts in coal consumption, the Obama Administration today will propose a 40% reduction in average emissions from advanced coal-fired power plants.

The twin reductions—to the degree they are carried out, which will be a political battle in both countries—will go far toward slashing new greenhouse gas emissions since coal is one of the greatest contributors. In both countries, regulators are likely to meet tough resistance, and not only from the industries affected, but by thousands who will lose jobs.

In the US, the coal industry and the business community are likely to put up a big fight to stop the cuts because they are so strict that they may essentially stop the construction of any new coal-fired power plant. The rules would permit new plants to emit just 1,100 pounds of C02 per megawatt hour compared with 1,800 pounds that advanced coal-fired facilities produce today. No one has yet invented economically feasible technology that could produce such a cut.

In China, new rules were detailed Sept. 18 that call for large province-by-province reductions in coal consumption and steel plants, which burn coal. Sanford Bernstein’s Michael Parker called Beijing’s move “the beginning of the end of coal” in China.

Beijing first began to clamp down on coal in 2005, but the rules have been undermined by local officials and plant managers whose job performance has been judged by economic performance. The question will be whether pollution now becomes a bigger part of promotion in China’s Communist party system.

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