U.S. EPA Takes on Coal Industry

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The battered U.S. coal industry took another shot Friday as U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) chief Gina McCarthy announced proposed stricter clean air regulations in a speech at the National Press Club. Ever since President Obama announced a plan to limit greenhouse gas emissions a year ago, the industry and its political backers have condemned the president’s “war on coal.”

The proposed regulations set emissions at new coal-fired power plants at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour of generation. Many existing coal-fired plants emit between 1,600 and 2,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt. Advanced coal-fired plants emit 1,800 pounds of CO2, according to industry officials.

Coal-fired electricity generation consumes about 18% of all the energy used in the United States and emits about 31% of energy-related carbon dioxide. The EPA is touting a technology called carbon capture and storage (CCS), which some experts say can capture as much as 90% of a power plant’s carbon emissions. Opponents claim the technology is unproven and too expensive in any event.

Any cost advantage coal might have over natural gas as a fuel for power generation could rapidly disappear if the proposed rules are adopted. New natural gas-fired plants with a capacity of up to 850 megawatts also will be held to a carbon emissions limit of 1,100 pounds and larger plants will be limited to 1,000 pounds per megawatt hour. Natural gas emits about half as much carbon as does coal, so meeting the new requirements is not an issue.

The proposed regulations will not have too much impact on today’s share prices of U.S. coal companies because the announcement has been anticipated for at least a year and is already priced into the stocks.

Shares of Peabody Energy Corp. (NYSE: BTU) are down 0.2%, at $18.71 in pre-market trading Friday morning. The stock’s 52-week range is $14.34 to $29.84.

Alpha Natural Resources Inc. (NYSE: ANR) closed at $6.63 last night and is inactive this morning. The stock’s 52-week range is $4.78 to $10.74.

Arch Coal Inc. (NYSE: ACI) is down 1.2%, at $4.94 in a 52-week range of $3.47 to $8.86.

Consol Energy Inc. (NYSE: CNX) is inactive, having closed at $35.34 last night in a 52-week range of $26.25 to $37.39.

Walter Energy Inc. (NYSE: WLT) is down about 0.1%, at $14.99 in a 52-week range of $9.88 to $41.32.