(This piece was originally published on September 15, 2018 by Greensburg Daily News.)

While the implications of the Donald Trump administration’s planned rollback of coal regulation remain unseen, one seems certain: previously shuttered power plants are unlikely to reopen.

Coal officials and power companies champion the new Affordable Clean Energy rules announced last month as offering coal-fired plants a temporary reprieve from costly regulations, but the decision came too late for many smaller plants.

Under the previous Obama-era rules, the plan included cuts to U.S. carbon dioxide emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule dictated specific emission targets for states based on power-plant emissions specifically requiring installation of carbon-cutting measures like CO2-removing environmental scrubbers.

For smaller plants under 25 megawatts, one of the earliest deadlines for complying with the ruling came at the beginning of 2016. And without major investment, many smaller plants, like the coal-fired power plant in Logansport, chose to mothball their facilities.

Paul Hartman, Logansport Municipal Utilities superintendent, estimated compliance with the regulation would have cost north of $100 million, a huge price for the small metropolitan energy provider.

Instead, the plant closed in January 2016.

But now, under the Trump administration, the Affordable Clean Energy plan broadly increases the leeway given states to decide how much to regulate coal power plants. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it “empowers states, promotes energy independence and facilitates economic growth and job creation.”

As it stands, those costly updates to smaller facilities would likely be scrapped.

But even without the required regulation, Hartman said, it’s unlikely that new coal will be flooding into previously closed facilities any time soon.

“It’s impossible to get these units restarted,” Hartman said. “If you leave a coal-fired plant down for three or four or five months or through a winter, it’s not going to start back up again.”

Beneath every coal plant are miles of pipes to transfer cooled water, which is then heated by a coal furnace and turned into steam to turn a turbine. The steam is then cooled and recirculated back through the system.

As Hartman explained, without the regular maintenance associated with actually running a plant, all those water lines would have frozen and broken, and many of the main moving parts would surely have locked up by now.

He compared it to trying to start a car that’d been sitting outside for two years, “except if the car didn’t have antifreeze in it and no oil in the crankcase.

“You just don’t know how many leaks or where they would be,” he continued.

And even if the plant were in working order, the cost for coal is much higher than Hartman could afford to run the plant effectively.

Nearly all economists and energy experts agree that, as natural gas grows cheaper to produce and electric companies focus on renewable energy, the downfall of coal seems all but inevitable.

Across the country, a coal plant is retired roughly every 16 days under the Trump administration, just as under Obama. More than half of the United States’ 270 coal plants are either slated for closure or have already been retired, according to the Sierra Club.

Even as the federal government signaled plans to reduce regulations on the fossil fuel, coal-fired plants remained on the chopping block in Indiana.

Two coal-fired generators at NIPSCO’s Bailly Generating Station in Burns Harbor were closed in July, after the United States had left the Paris Climate Accord and President Donald Trump had signaled plans to scrap the Clean Power Plan.

The decision to end coal-fired generation at Bailly was part of NIPSCO’s 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which calls for a 50-percent reduction in the utility’s coal plants by 2023.

Health costs of coal plan

Five coal power plants in Indiana are slated to close by 2030, according to the Sierra Club, with two more in talks to close.

But Bruce Stevens, president of the Indiana Coal Council, believes reduced regulations will allow the fuel source to remain competitive.

“We are very hopeful and encouraged that this will now provide the opportunity for utilities in Indiana who have announced or are considering coal plant closures, that there will be some reconsideration,” Stevens said.

However, by the Trump Administration’s own reckoning, that would come at a human cost. The plan’s own analysis estimates it would put higher levels of dangerous pollutants in the air, causing as many as 1,500 additional premature deaths annually by 2030 from heart and lung disease.

“The significant weakening of the Clean Power Plan under the Trump EPA provides far less incentive for utilities to modernize their electric power system compared to the original plan proposed during the Obama Administration,” Hoosier Environmental Council President Jesse Kharbanda said.

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