Coal moratorium

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Coal moratorium refers to a halt in construction of new-coal fired power plants. Some proponents of such a moratorium make an exception for plants that include coal capture and sequestration; others propose an unqualified ban. The movement for a coal moratorium is also known as the No New Coal Plants movement.

The argument for a coal moratorium

The most prominent and outspoken proponent of a coal moratorium has been James E. Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies. In July, 2007, Hansen summed up the argument for a moratorium as follows:

James Hansen on coal moratorium
The most important time-critical action needed to avert climate disasters concerns coal. Consider: 1) one-quarter of fossil fuel CO2 emission remains in the air for more than 500 years, 2) conventional oil and gas reserves are sufficient to take atmospheric CO2 at least to the vicinity of the “dangerous” level, and it is impractical to capture their CO2 emission as it is mostly from small sources (vehicles), 3) coal reserves are far greater than oil and gas reserves, and most coal use is at power plants, where it is feasible to capture and permanently sequester the CO2 underground (CCS = carbon capture and sequestration). Clear implication: the only practical way to keep CO2 below or close to the “dangerous level” is to phase out coal use during the next few decades, except where CO2 is captured and sequestered.
The resulting imperative is an immediate moratorium on additional coal-fired power plants without CCS. A surge in global coal use in the last few years has converted a potential slowdown of CO2 emissions into a more rapid increase. But the main reason for the proposed moratorium is that a CO2 molecule from coal, in effect, is more damaging than a CO2 molecule from oil. CO2 in readily available oil almost surely will end up in the atmosphere, it is only a question of when, and when does not matter much, given its long lifetime. CO2 in coal does not need to be released to the atmosphere, but if it is, it cannot be recovered and will make disastrous climate change a near certainty.
The moratorium must begin in the West, which is responsible for three-quarters of climate change (via 75% of the present atmospheric CO2 excess, above the pre-industrial level), despite large present CO2 emissions in developing countries. The moratorium must extend to developing countries within a decade, but that will not happen unless developed countries fulfill their moral obligation to lead this moratorium. If Britain should initiate this moratorium, there is a strong possibility of positive feedback, a domino effect, with Germany, Europe, and the United States following, and then, probably with technical assistance, developing countries.
A spreading moratorium on construction of dirty (no CCS) coal plants is the sine quo non for stabilizing climate and preserving creation. It would need to be followed by phase-out of existing dirty coal plants in the next few decades, but would that be so difficult? Consider the other benefits: cleanup of local pollution, conditions in China and India now that greatly damage human health and agriculture, and present global export of pollution, including mercury that is accumulating in fish stock throughout the ocean.
There are long lists of things that people can do to help mitigate climate change. But for reasons quantified in my most recent publication, a moratorium on coal-fired power plants without CCS is by far the most important action that needs to be pursued. It should be the rallying issue for young people. The future of the planet in their lifetime is at stake. This is not an issue for only Bangladesh and the island nations, but for all humanity and other life on the planet. It seems to me that young people, especially, should be doing whatever is necessary to block construction of dirty (no CCS) coal-fired power plants. No doubt our poor communication of the matter deserves much of the blame. Suggestions for how to improve that communication are needed.[1]

Governmental action


In 2001, Ontario generated 37,000 Gigawatt hours of electricity from coal.[2] As of 2008, Ontario had four coal-fired fuel stations: Nanticoke, Lambton, Thunder Bay, and Atikokan. A fifth, Lakeview, was shut down in 2005. Together Ontario's coal plants account for approximately sixteen per cent of Ontario's generating capacity.[3] In 2007, Ontario's Labor government committed to phasing out all coal generation in the province by 2014, delaying an earlier commitment to close the plants by 2007.[4][5] Premier Dalton McGuinty said, "By 2030 there will be about 1,000 more new coal-fired generating stations built on this planet. There is only one place in the world that is phasing out coal-fired generation and we're doing that right here in Ontario."[6] The 310-megawatt Thunder Bay coal plant is being converted to natural gas. The following plants are included in the phase-out:

  • Lakeview - 1,140 megawatts (close
  • Atikokan - 215 megawatts
  • Lambton - 1,975 megawatts
  • Nanticoke - 3,938 megawatts
  • Thunder Bay - 310 megawatts (converting to natural gas)

New Zealand

The industry journal Power Engineering announced in October 2007 that New Zealand had begun a 10-year moratorium on new thermal power plants construction, including coal, oil, and natural gas plants. New Zealand's moratorium applies to state-owned utilities only, but an extension to the private sector was reported to be under consideration.[7]

British Columbia

On February 13, 2007, British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell delivered a "throne speech" in which he announced a major initiative against global warming by the B.C. government. The initiative included a requirment that "all new and existing electricity produced in B.C. will be required to have net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2016."[8]


In an 11-10 vote, the Governor's Commission on Global Warming recommended a moratorium on new coal plants in the state until carbon sequestration technology is ready.[9][10]


California's SB 1368 created the first de facto governmental moratorium on new coal plants in the United States. The law was signed in September 2006, took effect for investor-owned utilities in January 2007, and took effect for publicly-owned utilities in August 2007. SB 1368 applied to long-term investments (five years or more) by California utilities, whether in-state or out-of-state. Regulators implementing the law set the standard for greenhouse gas emissions at 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour, the equal to the emissions of a combined-cycle natural gas plant. This standard became known as the Schwarzenegger clause and was adopted in Washington and the European Union. This standard could not be met by new coal plants unless such plants provided captured at least a portion (32% - 51%, depending on type of generation technology) of their carbon dioxide emissions.[11]


House Bill 276, proposed by Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), would put a 5-year moratorium on building new coal plants and eliminate the burning of Appalachian coal mined by mountaintop removal by mid-2016. The Appalachian Mountain Preservation Act would gradually prohibit Georgia coal consumers from using Central Appalachian mountaintop removal beginning in 2011. The bill is backed by environmental groups including Appalachian Voices but received strong opposition from POWER4Georgians.[12][13]


On April 7, 2006, Governor Kempthorne of Idaho signed House Bill 791, which established a two-year moratorium on new coal plants in the state.[14]


On April 15, 2008, Maine Governor John E. Baldacci signed LD 2126, "An Act To Minimize Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Coal-Powered Industrial and Electrical Generating Facilities in the State." The law, which was sponsored by Rep. W. Bruce MacDonald (D-Boothbay), requires the Board of Environmental Protection to develop greenhouse gas emission standards for coal gasification facilities. It also puts a moratorium in place on building any new coal gasification facilities until the standards are developed.[15][16][17]

New Jersey

In December 2008, the NJ DEP and Governor Corzine announced a new plan to attack greenhouse gas emissions in the state. The plan included a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. In addition, the plan recommended state action and policies that will clean up existing power plants, expand renewable energy to ensure that all electric sources in the state are carbon-free by 2050, and require buildings to meet state-of-the-art efficiency standards and incorporate renewable energy with the goal that, by 2030, every new building should generate more electricity than it consumes.[18]


In 2006 a coalition of Texas groups organized a campaign in favor of a statewide moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. The campaign culminated in a "Stop the Coal Rush" mobilization, including rallying and lobbying, at the state capital in Austin on February 11 and 12th, 2007.[19] Over 40 citizen groups supported the mobilization.[20]f

In January, 2007, A resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on new pulverized coal plants was filed in the Texas Legislature on Wednesday by State Rep. Charles "Doc" Anderson (R-Waco) as House Concurrent Resolution 43.[21] The resolution was left pending in committee.[22] On December 4, 2007, Rep. Anderson announced his support for two proposed integrated gasification combined cycle (IGCC) coal plants proposed by Luminent (formerly TXU).[23]

As of March 2009, two proposed bills - Senate Bill 126, sponsored by state Sen. Rodney Ellis, and its companion House Bill 4384, sponsored by Rep. Allen Vaught - would put a temporary moratorium on coal fired power plants without carbon capture and storage capabilities. SB 126 was sent to committee on March 24, 2009.[24] Joe Lucas, Senior Vice President of Communications at American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, described support for the legislation as "misguided, economically unfeasible and environmentally unnecessary."[25]


In February 2009, Rep. Roger Barrus (R-Centerville) introduced new legislation to ban new power plants in polluted areas. If passed, HB393 would mandate a two-year moratorium on most new power plants in areas that do not meet federal clean-air standards for fine particle pollution. The ban would not apply to natural gas power plants, which have lower emissions.[26]


Washington has followed the same approach as California, prohibiting coal plants whose emissions would exceed those of natural gas plants. Substitute Senate Bill 6001 (SSB 6001), signed on May 3, 2007, by Governor Gregoire, enacted the standard. [27] As a result of SSB 6001, the Pacific Mountain Energy Center in Kalama was rejected by the state. However, a new plant proposal, the Wallula Energy Resource Center, shows the limits of the "natural gas equivalency" approach as a means of stopping carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. This proposed plant would meet the standard set by SSB 6001, even though it would capture and sequester a portion (65 percent, according to a plant spokesman) of its carbon.[28]


In February 2009, Governor Jim Doyle announced that the University of Wisconsin's Charter Street Heating Plant will phase out coal. Gov. Doyle said that a biomass boiler will be installed by 2012 in an effort to generate 25 percent of the state's energy from renewable resources by the year 2025. The over $200 million investment will eliminate the burning of over 100 tons of coal.[29]

European Union

In October 2008, the European Parliament's Environment Committee voted to support a limit on CO2 emissions for all new coal plants built in the EU after 2015. The "Schwarzenegger clause" applies to all plants with a capacity over 300MW, and limits their annual CO2 emissions to a maximum of 500 grammes per kilowatt hour. The new emissions standard essentially rules out traditional coal plant technologies and mandates the use of Carbon Capture and Storage technologies. The Committee also adopted an amendment to support the financing of 12 large-scale commercial CCS demonstration projects, at a cost that could exceed €10 billion.[30][31]

Proposed legislation

H.R. 5575, the "Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act"

In March, 2008, Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey, co-chair of the U.S. House or Representatives Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, introduced H.R. 5575, the “Moratorium on Uncontrolled Power Plants Act of 2008.” The legislation addresses the largest new source of global warming pollution — new coal-fired power plants that are being built without any controls on their global warming emissions.[32]

The legislation states: "Effective upon the date of enactment of this Act, no permitting authority shall issue a permit for a proposed new coal-fired electric generating unit under the Clean Air Act, unless the permit requires the unit to use state-of-the-art control technology to capture and permanently sequester carbon dioxide emissions from such unit."[33]

"State-of-the-art control technology" is defined as "The term ‘‘technology that captures not less than 85 percent of the total carbon dioxide produced by the unit on an annual average basis and permanently sequesters that carbon dioxide in a geological formation approved by the Administrator in a manner that prevents its later release into the atmosphere."[34]

Utility action

  • Progress Energy Carolinas announced on June 1, 2007, that it was beginning a two-year moratorium on proposals for new coal-fired power plants while it undertook more aggressive efficiency and conservation programs. The company added, "Additional reductions in future electricity demand growth through energy efficiency could push the need for new power plants farther into the future."[35]
  • Public Service of Colorado concluded in its November 2007 Resource Plan: "In sum, in light of the now likely regulation of CO2 emissions in the future due to broader interest in climate change issues, the increased costs of constructing new coal facilities,and the increased risk of timely permitting to meet planned in-service dates, Public Service does not believe it would not be prudent to consider at this time any proposals for new coal plants that do not include CO2 capture and sequestration.[36]
  • Xcel Energy noted in its 2007 Resource Plan that "given the likelihood of future carbon regulation, we have only modeled a future coal-based resource option that includes carbon capture and storage."[36]
  • Avista Utilities announced that it does not anticipate pursuing coal-fired power plants in the foreseeable future.[36]
  • NorthWestern Energy announced on December 17, 2007, that it planned to double its wind power capacity over the next seven years and steer away from new baseload coal plants. The plans are detailed in the company's 2007 Montana Electric Supply Resource Plan.[37]

Public support for a coal moratorium

Opinion polls

In October, 2007, Civil Society Institute released the results of a poll of 1,003 U.S. citizens conducted by Opinion Research Corporation.

The authors of the poll reported: "75 percent of Americans –-including 65 percent of Republicans, 83 percent of Democrats and 76 percent of Independents --would 'support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe renewable energy --such as wind and solar --and improved home energy-efficiency standards.' Women (80 percent) were more likely than men (70 percent) to support this idea.Support also was higher among college graduates (78 percent) than among those who did not graduate from high school (68 percent).[38]

The exact question posed by the survey was as follows: More than half of power plant-generated electricity comes from coal. Experts say that power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide pollution linked to global warming. There are plans tobuild more than 150 new coal-fired power plants over the next several years. Would you support a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants in the United States if there was stepped-up investment in clean, safe and renewable energy –such as wind and solar –and improved home energy-efficiency standards? Would you say definitely yes, probably yes, probably no, definitely no, or don't know.

The results were as follows:[39]

  • 30% "definitely yes"
  • 45% "probably yes"
  • 13% "probably no"
  • 8% "definitely no"
  • 4% "don't know"

A survey conducted by the Opinon Research Corporation for and the Civil Society Institute found that Montanans favor renewable energy and energy efficiency over fossil fuels and nuclear power. The survey of 601 Montana residents found that:[40]

  • Almost 70 percent of Montana residents support a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants. When brokent down by political party, the freeze on new coal plants is favored by 83 percent of Democrats, 59 percent of Republicans, and 53 percent of Independents.
  • 56 percent of Montana residents prefer energy soures such as solar and wind, increased energy efficiency, and highly fuel-efficient vehicles as a means to achieving independence to foreign energy, as opposed to only 35 percent who favor oil from offshore drilling, more coal power plants, and nuclear power.
  • Only 10 percent of Montana residents favor allowing coal-to-liquids technology. 39 percent oppose subsidies for CTL under any circumstnces, and 48% would allow subsidies only with strict environmental controls.

CLEAN call to action

In October, 2007, fifteen groups led by Citizens Lead for Energy Action Now (CLEAN) called for a five-year moratorium on new coal-fired power plants, with no exception for plants sequestering carbon. The groups included Save Our Cumberland Mountains (Tennessee); Ohio Valley Environmental Council (West Virginia); Cook Inlet Keeper (Alaska); Christians for the Mountains (West Virginia); Coal River Mountain Watch (West Virginia); Kentuckians for the Commonwealth (Kentucky); Civil Society Institute (Massachusetts); Clean Power Now (Massachusetts); Indigenous Environmental Network (Minnesota); Castle Mountain Coalition (Alaska); Citizens Action Coalition (Indiana); Appalachian Center for the Economy & the Environment (West Virginia); Appalachian Voices (NC); and Rhode Island Wind Alliance (Rhode Island).[41]

Union of Concerned Scientists

In a study released in October, 2008, the Union of Concerned Scientists called for a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants that do not capture their carbon dioxide emissions. The authors of the study wrote that the United States should:

Stop building new coal-fired power plants without CCS. Each new coal plant built without CCS represents a major long-term source of CO2. It is not safe to assume that new coal plants built today without CCS could cost-effectively add it later, because the cost of CCS (considerable even when included in the plant’s original design) would be much higher if added as a retrofit. The federal government should therefore adopt a strong performance standard limiting CO2 emissions from new coal plants, which will prevent the construction of any plant not employing CCS from the outset. Until such a policy is put in place, state regulators should evaluate proposed plants using a projected range of prices those plants would likely have to pay for their CO2 emissions under a capand-trade program.[42]

League of Women Voters

In August, 2008, the League of Women Voters issued a call for a moratorium on all new coal plants. League President Mary G. Wilson, said, “Global warming is happening now.” She argued that Congress is failing its mission:[43]

If we wait for federal action from our congressional leaders, it will be too late. We must take immediate and aggressive action to halt climate change. Burning more coal is too big a risk for too many people. Coal is the single largest source of global warming pollution in the U.S., with power plants responsible for 33 percent of CO2 emissions. Because of this pollution, we already face increasingly severe heat waves and droughts, intensifying hurricanes and floods, disappearing glaciers and more wildfires. If left unchecked, the effects will be catastrophic to us and our planet.

Other citizen groups supporting a coal moratorium

Shareholder resolutions in favor of a coal moratorium

"RESOLVED: Shareholders request that BOA’s board of directors amend its GHG emissions policies to observe a moratorium on all financing, investment and further involvement in activities that support MTR coal mining or the construction of new coal-burning power plants that emit carbon dioxide.[44]

Newspaper editorials

The Detroit Free Press editorialized in support of a statewide moratorium on new coal plants. The Free Press wrote, "The environmental groups have it right. Michigan ought to declare a moratorium on new coal-fired utility plants. This may even prove a blessing to the outfits that want the plants, given the difficulties of financing big projects these days." The paper noted that Michigan's energy demand was not sufficient to support the buildout that is contemplated. "Back when Michigan's economy was merely slipping, as opposed to cliff-diving, the most detailed forecast of future electricity demand called for just one new coal plant", as opposed to the 8 currently on the drawing boards. Waiting will very likely save rate payers from investing in projects that may have to be rethought, or canceled. "it seems reasonable to hold off on permits for coal plants for at least a year. That should provide a better picture on the financial markets, the demand for electricity and, perhaps most important, what kind of greenhouse gas regulations may emerge in Washington."[45]

Prominent individuals supporting a coal moratorium

Al Gore on coal moratorium
  • Banker and financier Tom Sanzillo, currently First Deputy Comptroller for the state of New York, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in the state of Iowa. Citing slow growth in electricity demand and better alternative sources of energy, Sanzillo said, "It's not only good public policy, it's great economics." [47]
  • Mary Wood, Professor of Law at the University of Oregon, called for a moratorium on new coal plants in an videocast lecture to the University of Montana on February 19, 2008. Wood compared the urgency of the climate crisis to World War II: “Nothing less than a massive global effort on the scale of WWII can save our climate.” [48]
  • William Nye, host of the educational TV program "Bill Nye the Science Guy," called for a moratorium on new coal plants during a presentation at Penn State University on October 14, 2008.[49]

EPA lawyers supporting a coal moratorium

In May, 2008, Laurie Williams and Allan Zabel, two lawyers at the Environmental Protection Agency, wrote a public letter opposing cap-and-trade solutions to greenhouse gas emissions and supporting a federal moratorium on new coal plants that don't sequester their carbon dioxide emissions. The letter, "Urgent Plea for Enactment of Carbon Fees and Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants without Carbon Sequestration," was written in their capacity as citizens rather than in their capacity as EPA employees.[50]

Mayors supporting a coal moratorium

  • Charlottesville, N.C., mayor Dave Norris has spoken out in favor of a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.[51] On December 19, 2007, Charlottesville passed the Charlottesville Clean Energy Resolution putting the city on record in support a moratorium.
  • On October 13, 2007, Pocatello, Idaho, mayor Roger Chase told other mayors from across the state attending an Association of Idaho Cities legislative committee that he favored a moratorium on new coal plants in the state. [52]
  • On June 1, 2007, Park City, Utah, mayor Dana Wilson wrote a letter to Warren Buffett expressing the city's opposition to three coal plants proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.[53]
  • In November 2007, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson expressed his support for a coal moratorium at a rally organized by the Step It Up! campaign.[54]

Other politicians supporting a moratorium

  • Ed Fallon, running against incumbent Leonard Boswell for Democratic Party nomination for Iowa's 3rd Congressional District, stated his support for a coal moratorium and criticized Boswell's statement that "coal will be the mainstay for electricity for decades to come."[55]

Local governmental bodies supporting a coal moratorium

  • In January, 2008, Black Hawk County (Iowa) Health Board recommended that the state adopt a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until it enacts tougher air pollution standards.[56]

John Edwards criticized for pseudo-support of a coal moratorium

Writing in the online magazine Grist, columnist David Roberts reported that he had contacted the John Edwards campaign for clarification about Edwards's position on a coal moratorium. According to Roberts, "There was some question in this thread about what exactly John Edwards means when he says he would "require that all new coal-fired plants be built with the required technology to capture their carbon dioxide emissions." Would he require that new coal plants sequester their emissions, or merely that they be built in such a way that they could sequester their emissions at some point in the future? I called the Edwards campaign today. The answer is the latter: the ban would not require coal plants to sequester their emissions; it would merely require compatibility."[57]

Rising Tide hoax

In December, 2007, climate activists with the Rising Tide network sought to embarrass the corporate-backed U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), by distributing a spoof press release declaring that the consortium’s members had committed more aggressive goals than actually supported by USCAP, including an immediate moratorium on the construction of all new coal-fired power plants.

The fake press release was picked up by several media outlets, including the Dallas Morning News, UK Hemscott and several blogs. Rising Tide used the phony website to distribute the release, which mimicked USCAP’s site, The hoax was timed to coincide with the opening of a major United Nations climate summit in Bali in an effort to expose the disproportionate influence of large corporations on the climate negotiations and the lack of initiative from corporations on reducing fossil fuel use.[58]

Comparison to movement against nuclear power

The coal moratorium movement has not succeeded in winning the cancellation of as many plants as the movement against nuclear power in the 1970s and 1980s, but it appears to have produced its initial impact more rapidly.

During 2007, 59 proposed coal plants were abandoned, cancelled, or placed or hold in the United States.[59] During the first 2008, 17 plants were abandoned or cancelled in the United States and 1 plant was cancelled in the Netherlands.[60]

From 1972 to 1990, over 120 proposed nuclear power plants were cancelled.[61]



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  56. "Board calls for coal plant moratorium,", 1/16/08.
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  58. "International Hoax Targets US Business Consortium Amidst Bali Climate Negotiations" Rising Tide North America Press Release, December 3, 2007.
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  60. Coal plants cancelled in 2008
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