Trump tries to hold the line on coal, but America is moving on (from California to New York)

  • Published on March 11th, 2019

Last week when Michael Bloomberg announced he would not run for president and would instead focus on an ambitious effort to fight climate change and move American to 100% clean energy, including doubling down to move the US beyond coal by 2030, we were of course excited. With 285 US coal plants announced to retire and 245 remaining, we’ve made a big difference for our climate and clean air and water, and we have a lot more work to do. And with a remarkable run of successes in just the past few weeks, we have good reason to believe we can get that work done.

coal sunsets

By Mary Ann Hitt
Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.

From retiring a coal plant that Trump tried to save with a tweet, to a historic announcement that Los Angeles won’t repower its gas plants, I want to be sure you’ve heard about these recent victories on the ground for the climate and clean energy movement that are moving our nation toward 100% clean energy.

First and perhaps most famously, was the remarkable Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) saga. With the TVA Board of Directors poised to vote February 14 on recommendations to retire the Paradise and Bull Run coal plants, Trump weighed in on February 11, tweeting “Coal is an important part of our electricity generation mix and @TVAnews should give serious consideration to all factors before voting to close viable power plants, like Paradise #3 in Kentucky!” More political pressure came from Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, Senator Mitch McConnell, and the entire Kentucky congressional delegation. Those forces were lobbying right up until the the board vote.

But in the end, even Trump’s own four appointees to the board could not save these coal plants, which were economic losers for the utility, and the board voted to retire them – see our press release here.

The Sierra Club continues to be heavily involved in advocacy around TVA. The day after the TVA board voted to close Paradise and Bull Run, the federal utility released its next energy resource plan. The draft recommends more coal coming offline, major additions of solar, and no new gas over the next decade.

Then, soon after the TVA vote, Southern Company’s Alabama subsidiary Alabama Power announced they are retiring their century-old, 1,000 megawatt (MW) Plant Gorgas, on the banks of the Black Warrior River. It became coal plant #285 to retire since 2010. The plant was a major source of coal ash pollution, and as Beyond Coal campaign representative Stephen Stetson put it, “Plant Gorgas is more than a century old, and this ancient coal plant is uneconomical and long overdue for retirement. Gorgas, like every coal ash site in Alabama, is polluting groundwater and putting public health and safety at risk.”

All of this is on top of a draft plan released by Georgia Power last month to retire the Hammond and Plant McIntosh coal plants, representing 2,000 MW of coal. The same plan is also looking at the possible retirement of the massive Plant Bowen, and is proposing one gigawatt of new renewables. The Georgia Public Service Commission will vote on the plan this summer.

All told, this is over 5,000 MW of coal slated to retire in just the past three weeks. When you consider that just under 15,000 MW were announced to retire in all of last year, 2019 is off to a remarkable start.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles on February 12, Mayor Eric Garcetti declared, “this is the beginning of the end for natural gas,” as he and the Department of Water and Power announced their intent to abandon plans for 1,682 MW of new gas plants and go all in on clean energy. This came as the result of an intensive, six-year campaign by the Sierra Club and allies to make the case that the city invest in renewable resources, rather than propping up the city’s aging fleet of gas plants.

As Evan Gillespie, the Beyond Coal western regional campaign director, put it, “It’s a moment six years in the making that began the day after the previous Mayor announced the end of coal.” I hope you’ll take a minute to read his blog here about the announcement and the campaign that made it possible – it’s so inspiring.

And finally, not to be outdone by California, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed climate legislation called the Climate Leadership Act that is among the most aggressive climate legislation in the nation by mandating a carbon neutral New York by 2040, five years earlier than California.

This is truly world-changing work, in which the Sierra Club played a pivotal role, along with many partners and allies. We look forward to doubling down on this work in the months and years ahead. As the climate science makes clear, we don’t have a moment to lose.

(Mary Anne Hitt is the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.)

About the Author

Not only is coal burning responsible for one third of US carbon emissions—the main contributor to climate disruption—but it is also making us sick, leading to as many as 13,000 premature deaths every year and more than $100 billion in annual health costs. The Beyond Coal campaign’s main objective is to replace dirty coal with clean energy by mobilizing grassroots activists in local communities to advocate for the retirement of old and outdated coal plants and to prevent new coal plants from being built.