US Takes a Bigger Bite Out of Coal, Study Finds

Coal Plant

By Jonny Wakefield

September 25, 2014

A new report is poking holes in the Canadian government’s claim that it’s doing more to combat emissions from coal fired power plants than our neighbour to the south.

In its study “A Climate Gift or a Lump of Coal?”, the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) concludes that the United States in poised to significantly reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, thanks in part to the Obama administration’s tough new regulations on coal-fired power plants.

Similar promises from the Canadian government have not yielded real results because the Canadian regulations on coal focus only on new plants and not existing emitters, the report states. 

Canada has long tacked its emissions reduction targets to U.S. commitments to avoid trade imbalances. At the Copenhagen conference, both Canada and the U.S. set emission reduction targets at 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

Obama’s climate plan focuses on coal plants because they are among the nation’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and the State Department has said the new rules will put the country “on a course to meet the 2020 goal.”

In response to those commitments, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Canada acted “sooner and bigger” by passing similar legislation in 2012.

Overall, those reductions would move the U.S. far closer to its 2020 targets. The U.S. is poised to reduce emissions by 6.6 percent by 2020, while Canada will likely only cut emissions by 4 percent.

However, the report notes that a far larger share of total emissions in the U.S. come from the electricity sector than in Canada, where around 77 percent of electricity comes from sources that do not emit GHGs.

For now, it seems likely the provinces will play a larger role in tackling emissions from coal plants.

In an interview, newly-minted Alberta Jim Prentice said “phasing out” the province’s aging fleet of coal plants could reduce the province’s emissions, despite increasing GHGs from tar sands development.  

“[The plants] can be phased out and we can achieve very significant emissions reductions just by not burning coal,” Prentice told the Globe and Mail.