Funny things happen in political years. Some believe that one of those "things" is that the Environmental Protection Agency is holding off on bringing forward up to five new rules or regulations that could affect the coal industry. Vince Griffin, with the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, says any one of the five could potentially break the back of the coal industry by itself.
That's because it would force plants that burn coal to produce electricity to make significant changes and investments to stay in operation. Some plants might not even be able to make these changes and still be economical, so they might be shut down. The potential damage to Indiana's economy is significant since coal is such an abundant resource in this state.
Part of the rules would apply to emissions, others might change how carbon ash produced as a byproduct is classified. If EPA changes its status to a toxic waste, disposal of the ash could become a real issue for coal-fired plants, and could force major changes in how it is handled.
Utility plants aren't waiting until they know the outcome of the election or whether EPA goes forward with any or all of these rules to take action. Griffin says some are moving toward producing electricity from natural gas. The problem is that even though natural gas is cheap right now, it's still not as cheap as producing electricity from coal. Large discoveries of shale gas in the Dakotas has led to a drop in natural gas prices, since the supply is up, but no one knows for sure how long that price drop will last.
What EPA does in regards to regulating coal-fired plants is definitely something to watch, he notes. If they go forward with heavy-handed rules, electricity could become more expensive for Hoosiers.