Who's Killing Coal: Obama or the Market?

Here in the United States, coal is in decline. It's producing the smallest percentage of our electricity since the 1970s, we're burning less of it overall, and prices have dropped drastically. 

One reason is that America is in the midst of a natural gas boom that's provided utilities with a cheap, efficient, and (comparatively) clean source of power. But some, including the Economist, have also pointed to Obama administration environmental regulations as hastening the switch. So what's really killing coal: the market or our current president? 

The market, says this graph from the Energy Information Administration. The chart breaks down America's electricity supply by source and the year it started operating. And here's the basic take-away: natural gas was trouncing coal all through the Bush administration. What we've seen under Obama has been the continuation of a trend. 

EIA_Power_Plants.png

None of this is meant to suggest that Obama-era environmental regulations haven't had any impact on coal. It is also quite plausible to argue that earlier regulations tilted the scales in natural gas' favor. And it's possible that the EPA's proposed limits on greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants might really turn out to be a de facto ban on coal, as some have suggested. 

But it's clear that coal's decline has been a long time in the making.

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

Why Is Google Making Human Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors at a world-class life sciences lab are trying to change the way people think about their health.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Videos

Why Is Google Making Skin?

Hidden away on Google’s campus, doctors are changing the way people think about health.

Video

How to Build a Tornado

A Canadian inventor believes his tornado machine could solve the world's energy crisis.

Video

A New York City Minute, Frozen in Time

This short film takes you on a whirling tour of the Big Apple

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we save the night sky?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In