Beyond Coal – A Highly Successful Citizen’s Movement


Figure 1: Coal Plants shut down by citizen movement in the US (Source: Beyond Coal)

A persistent grassroots citizens’ rebellion called Beyond Coal has blocked the construction of 166 (and counting) proposed coal-fired power plants – has been at least as important. At the very time when President Obama’s “cap-and-trade” climate legislation was going down in flames in Washington, local activists across the United States were helping to impose “a de facto moratorium on new coal”, in the words of Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute, one of the first analysts to note the trend.

Figure 2: Rallys all around the World to Kick Oil and Gas out (Source: KPCC Southern California Public Radio)

In contrast to mainstream environmental groups’ lobbying on Capitol Hill for cap-and-trade, the Beyond Coal movement’s strength was grounded in the unsung work of retail politics: activists talking with friends and neighbours, pestering local media, packing regulatory hearings, protesting before state legislatures, filing legal challenges and more. Nor was the anti-coal movement comprised solely of the usual suspects. In addition to environmentalists, it included clean energy advocates, public health professionals, community organisers, faith leaders, farmers, attorneys, students and volunteers

Retiring Old Coal Plants – A Great Opportunity to be Emulated Globally

Coal plants are the largest source of global pollution emissions. Making a major dent in these will make a major dent in climate change. A study released Nov 13, 2012 by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) concludes that  as much as 18 percent of the United States fleet of coal fired plants is old enough to be considered for retirement:

  • 353 generators in 31 states, totaling 59 gigawatts (GW) of electricity generation capacity, likely will be more expensive to operate after installing modern pollution control equipment than switching to cleaner energy alternatives such as natural gas, renewable energy, or using greater energy efficiency measures
  • This is in addition to 41 GW of already announced US coal plant retirements