It’s widely known that Robert Murray, the founder of the country’s largest privately-owned coal company, likes to use colorful language. And on Monday, the Murray Energy Corp. CEO took his personal hyperbole to new heights, saying proposed Environmental Protection Agency regulations will have the effect of permanently destroying the coal industry in the United States.
“It isn’t coming back. It’s permanent,” Murray said at a coal marketing conference in Pittsburgh, repeatedly using the word “destroyed” to describe the state of the industry, according to SNL Energy. “That’s what we see and that’s what we do our planning on. And remember, I have to make a payroll based on what we project.”
What Murray projects is an eventual decrease in U.S. coal generation from its current rate of 39 percent to between 30 and 34 percent, according to SNL’s report. That means 230 million tons of coal-fired generation lost by 2020, Murray said, and anyone who believes the industry will bounce back is either bad at business or “smoking dope.”
This decrease, Murray said, amounts to a downfall, and that’s because of “radical” environmentalists’ efforts to implement clean air regulations on coal companies. He specifically targeted the EPA’s proposed rule to limit carbon emissions from existing coal plants, predicting that it will result in extreme losses of coal-fired power plants that will destabilize the electrical grid.
“Grandma is going to be cold and in the dark with what they’re doing,” Murray said, according to the Pittsburgh Business Times. His predictions about the industry’s downfall are correct, he said, because of his relationship with God. “The good Lord has been with me for 58 years [in the business]. I’ve been right every time. That’s not me. The Lord did that.”
Murray is right about one thing: that the EPA’s carbon rule will help reduce coal-fired electricity generation in the United States. Specifically, the EPA predicts that America’s use of coal to generate electricity will decrease by roughly 30 percent between now and 2030, if and when that regulation of carbon emissions comes into effect.
But Murray is also wrong about at least three more things: that the EPA’s rule is the sole reason for the falling U.S. coal market, that a dent in consumption amounts to “destruction,” and that an electric grid minus coal is inherently unstable. As many have already pointed out, the EPA’s climate rule is only expected to accelerate a process that is already happening. Indeed, about a quarter of U.S. coal plants have retired or are have been slated to retire since 2011. That’s partially because of EPA regulations on other harmful air pollutants like mercury, particulate matter, and sulfur dioxide, but it’s also in no small part due to huge competition from the natural gas boom (which is also resulting in an increase of U.S. coal exports to other countries.)
Even with that, the U.S. Energy Information administration predicts coal will remain a significant source of American electricity until at least 2040.
As for Murray’s assertion that “Grandma is going to be cold and in the dark” — i.e. that a reduction in coal consumption in the United States will result in a destabilization of the electric grid — well, it’s one that coal companies have been making for years, every time a new pollution regulation is introduced. Rebecca Leber puts it well in a piece for the New Republic outlining those historic catastrophic predictions that never came to fruition: “If the sky indeed fell because of the EPA’s proposed climate rule like promised, it would the first time the industry guessed it right.”
History aside, commissioners for the federal agency that oversees grid reliability have said the EPA carbon rule’s risk to the electric grid is “manageable,” and have been working with EPA to assure those challenges are met. What it looks like is that any potential hindrance to grid reliability from decreased coal generation will be offset by reliance on more gas-fired generation — a fact Murray reportedly acknowledged in his speech.