News Story

Sierra Club in Legal War to Stop All Expansion of Coal Power Plants

With 230 years of reserves, no nation more “energy independent” in coal than United States

The Grand Rapids Press recently reported that the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit over a permit issued to a coal plant in Holland, Mich. The lawsuit claims that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality ignored state regulations when it approved the Holland plant’s air pollution permit. What the article didn’t mention was that the Sierra Club files lawsuits against every coal plant in the United States that is issued permits either to expand or build.

“They are very proud of this strategy,” said Carol Raulston, senior vice president for communications for the National Mining Association.

Ann Woiwode, director of the Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, verified that her organization does file a lawsuit on every permit issued to a coal plant. She said that is part of a bigger strategy to oppose coal as an energy source.

“Yes, we are challenging permits when they are issued,” Woiwode said. “We are working to move away from coal. … We need to recognize that coal is a costly, dirty fuel.”

Lisa Camooso Miller, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in an e-mail that she was disappointed the debate on clean energy has “reached this point.”

“The Sierra Club would prefer to lay the cost of debating the real issues at the feet of the taxpayers by burdening the courts with baseless lawsuits,” Miller said. “Clean coal technologies are being developed, and in some cases deployed, in many parts of the country — and the world. We don't have to sacrifice our economy for the environment. We can have both.”

The Holland Board of Public Works, which operates the coal plant, didn’t respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

Michigan’s coal-burning power plants supplied 60 percent of the electricity used in the state, according to a Michigan Public Service Commission, Department of Labor and Economic Growth 2008 study.

The World Coal Association reports that coal accounts for 27 percent of the planet’s total energy usage and 41 percent of worldwide electricity generation.

The United States is home to the largest coal reserves on Earth, with 28.3 percent of the total, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Russia and China are next with 18.6 percent and 13.6 percent, respectively. By comparison, Saudi Arabia commands the world’s largest reserve of oil with less than 20 percent of the global total, followed by Canada with 13.3 percent. The abundance of wealth in coal located in the United States has led CNBC television commentator Larry Kudlow to refer to the United States as the “Saudi Arabia of Coal” during his frequent calls for an “America First” energy policy.

At current usage rates, the EIA projects that the current known recoverable American coal reserves will provide energy for about 230 more years, or roughly as long as the United States has existed as a nation. The EIA expects usage rates to climb, which would trim the lifespan of known U.S. reserves to just over 140 years — longer than coal has currently been in use as a primary source of electricity generation, which began in 1881.  

But the projections assume that no additional recoverable reserves will be discovered or be exploitable over these time periods.

Coal can also be converted to a liquid fuel for use in automobiles.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.