"Why Does Old King Coal Still Rule?"

"Despite better alternatives and concern about climate change, coal isn’t disappearing any time soon."

"Tankers line up along the Chesapeake Bay waiting to their fill their holds with coal. From my vantage point in Annapolis, Md., near Sandy Point Park, on a clear day I can see dozens of ships, some underway and others anchored, waiting their turn at the coal terminal in Baltimore. Hulking red or black rusted boxes, they hail from Singapore, Liberia, and Panama. Many of them won’t unload in U.S. waters—coal exports are booming nationally, up more than 30 percent last year and setting records.

Coal is dirty. It’s dangerous. It’s the single biggest contributor to the heat-trapping gases that cause climate change. But for all its Dickensian downsides, we use a lot of coal. It’s cheap. It’s abundant. And it’s going to be in use for a long time. Until recently, coal fueled half of the electricity generated in the United States. That number was whittled to 42 percent last year, mostly due to a new flood of cheap natural gas that made it economical for power plants to make the switch from burning coal.

Efforts to use cleaner sources of energy in the United States have put coal in a state of flux. Air pollution regulations have forced power plants to clean up emissions from their smokestacks or shut down. Many operators are choosing natural gas rather than upgrading outdated coal plants. And renewable energy sources like wind and solar now vie for up to 20 percent of the electricity generated in states such as South Dakota and Iowa. But don’t be fooled into thinking coal is on a deep dive."

Lisa Palmer reports for Slate November 2, 2012.

Source: Slate, 11/05/2012