Last May, protesters took over James E. Rogers’s front lawn in Charlotte, N.C., unfurling banners declaring “No new coal” and erecting a makeshift “green power plant” — which, they said in a press release, was fueled by “the previously unexplored energy source known as hot air, which has been found in large concentrations” at his home.
And so it goes for Mr. Rogers, the chief executive of Duke Energy. For three years, environmentalists have been battling to stop his company from building a large coal-fired power plant in southwestern North Carolina. They say it will spew six million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere annually, in addition to producing toxic gases and mountains of fly ash similar to the muck that engulfed a Tennessee community recently.
All Mr. Rogers asks, he said in jest, is that protesters let him know when they want to camp out on his lawn. “Maybe next time we can have a little notice and ask them to join us for coffee or tea,” he says.
Mr. Rogers and his colleagues may be forgiven for feeling a little under siege these days. The coal industry, which powered the industrial revolution and supplied America with much of its electricity for more than 60 years, is in a fight for its survival.
With concerns over climate change intensifying, electricity generation from coal, once reliably cheap, looks increasingly expensive in the face of the all-but-certain prospect of regulations that would impose significant costs on companies that emit large amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
As a result, utilities’ plans for new coal plants are being turned down left and right. In the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn or denied permits by state regulators. The roughly 600 coal-fired power plants in the United States are responsible for almost one-third of the country’s total carbon emissions, but they are distinctly at odds with a growing outlook that embraces clean energy.
A new campaign against coal by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a prominent environmentalist, and the Waterkeeper Alliance is called “The Dirty Lie.” Other clean-energy advocates are equally passionate.