WASHINGTON, D.C.—If the United States is going to have even a chance of meeting its climate-change goals under the Paris Agreement, there are few actions more pressing than taking coal plants offline. Coal-burning power plants emit more heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than any other part of the electricity sector.
It’s been widely reported that coal is inexorably on its way out—that cheap natural gas, made available by fracking, is eroding coal’s dominance in the U.S. grid. But the speed of that transition matters immensely to the planet, as the United States is currently not on track to slow its emissions fast enough to avert catastrophic climate change.
This week, two powerful men set up on Capitol Hill to fight over the speed of that transition. One of them vied to keep up the pressure on coal retirements in a press conference on Wednesday; the other threw his support behind still-surviving plants in a congressional hearing on Thursday. The two were inhabiting unusual roles: The environmentalist billionaire said he was fighting for the free market, while the long-time Republican and former Texas governor asked for emergency government subsidies.
The first of the men is Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and the UN special envoy on climate change and cities. In this latter role, Bloomberg has put together an “America’s Pledge” from cities, states, companies, and universities who will continue to track their greenhouse-gas emissions under the Paris Agreement, even though Donald Trump has removed the federal government from that accord.