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Coal on the Decline: 150 Plant Closures and Counting

By Michael R. Bloomberg

The Sierra Club, Bloomberg Philanthropies and its partners have reached a big milestone in our campaign to move the United States beyond coal. With the announced retirement of the Brayton Point Power Station in Somerset, Massachusetts, 150 coal plants, or more than 60,000 megawatts, have either already closed or are on schedule to close. During the last two years, action by hundreds of individual communities, in partnership with the Sierra Club and Bloomberg Philanthropies, has led us to this key marker—one plant at a time. Coal is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about 40 percent of total U.S. emissions. Retiring much of our existing coal fleet is our best opportunity to lower carbon pollution in the United States. Already, this shift away from coal has helped drive 2012 carbon dioxide emissions in the United States to their lowest level in two decades.

The shift is also saving lives. Pollution from coal kills 13,000 Americans every year and threatens our air, water and climate. According to the Clean Air Task Force, shutting these 150 plants will save 4,100 lives, prevent 6,200 heart attacks and prevent 66,300 asthma attacks each year. This means Americans will avoid $1.9 billion in medical costs. Thanks to the low price of natural gas, and the increasingly competitive wind and solar industries, there’s no reason we can’t transition away from the most polluting fuels in existence – especially if the EPA moves forward with strong pollution control standards for existing power plants, which are critically important. For more than a century, coal powered American factories and cities and enabled our economy to lead the world, but at an increasingly steep price to our health and environment – as well as to our pocketbooks. Today, our healthcare system is burdened by the billions it costs to treat the hundreds of thousands each year who suffer from asthma and other lung and heart diseases caused by coal pollution. The coal industry will not slip quietly into the night. They will fight hard to protect their diminishing market share. But today, as we mark this important milestone, we can say that the sun is setting on the coal era in America – and as a result, our future looks brighter than ever.