The Biden Administration has taken another step towards its ambitious green agenda by pledging to phase out all coal-fired power plants in the United States.
Speaking at the annual United Nations climate change summit, U.S. Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry announced that the country will not build any new coal plants and will work towards shutting down existing ones. The move is part of America’s efforts to limit global warming to 1.5 Celsius.
Kerry stated that the first step is to stop making the problem worse and that America will be joining the Powering Past Coal Alliance, a coalition of nearly 60 countries committed to accelerating the phasing out of coal-fired power stations, except those with carbon capture and storage technology.
As of October, coal still accounts for just under 20% of the U.S. electricity, according to the Department of Energy. However, this is a significant decrease from the 50% it accounted for in 2008. President Biden had previously announced that coal plants “all across America” would be shut down and replaced by renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
The push to close down coal plants in the U.S. is already underway, with federal clean energy tax credits and regulations making it economically unviable for operators to continue. A report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis estimated that 173 coal plants will be shut down by 2030 and another 54 by 2040.
One such example is the Brandon Shores coal power plant located outside of Baltimore, which is expected to be deactivated in June 2025 as part of a settlement between the plant’s operator and the Sierra Club, an environmental organization. The plant has a capacity of 1,295 megawatts, enough to power over a million homes.
Burning coal is known to be one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions and significantly adds to global warming. According to the American Geosciences Institute, burning coal produces more carbon emissions compared to any other non-renewable fuel. It can have twice the carbon footprint of natural gas and more than gasoline. For instance, coal produces about 211 pounds of heat-trapping carbon dioxide per million BTUs of energy produced.
The United States’ commitment to phasing out coal comes at a time when China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, has ramped up its coal power generation. China already accounts for around 27% of global emissions, triple that of the U.S.
In addition, ahead of the COP28 summit, global delegates have been circulating a letter calling for an immediate ban on new natural gas infrastructure projects in the U.S. and other Western countries. This further highlights the urgency of moving away from fossil fuels and towards more sustainable and renewable energy sources.
In conclusion, the Biden Administration's commitment to not building new coal plants and phasing out existing ones is a critical step in the fight against climate change. With the U.S. being the world's second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, this move sends a powerful message to other countries and sets an important precedent for a greener and more sustainable future.