Coal plant closures continue even as US ends 'Clean Power Plan'

NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. power firm Vistra Energy Corp said on Friday that it would shut two coal-fired plants for economic reasons, as closures in the industry continue apace despite the environment regulator saying this week he wanted to end the "war on coal."

Vistra's <VST.N> subsidiary Luminant will close two Texas power plants, it said in a statement on Friday. The announcement came just a week after Luminant revealed the closure of a further Texas plant.

Together the three plants will remove more than 4,200 megawatts (MW) of coal-generated power, enough to supply electricity to more than four million homes.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said on Tuesday he wanted to ease pressure on the coal industry by scrapping a package of rules put in place under President Barack Obama, known collectively as the Clean Power Plan.

Coal mining in America
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Coal mining in America
circa 1935: Two miners at work in an anthracite mine near Scranton, Pennsylvania. (Photo by MPI/Getty Images)
Blaine Sergent, coal leader, putting up his check at end of day's work. Lejunior, Harlan Co., Ky. Sept. 13, 1946. | Location: Lejunior, Kentucky, USA. (Photo by � CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Row of Coal miners shanties on Elk River at Bream, W. Va. Location: Bream, West Virginia (Photo by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
A coal miner stands on his front porch with his wife and their two children, in Bertha Hill, West Virginia, September, 1938. (Photo via Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images).
(Original Caption) One of the earliest battlegrounds in the current strike of Miners of the steel companies 'captive' coal mines is pictured here. The scene is the captive mine of the united States Coal and Coke Company in Gary, West Virginia. Various weapons were brought into play, as members of an Independent Miner's Union engaged in a free for all with striking United Mine worker's pickets who sought to bar their entry. Two men were shot here. A skirmish is shown in progress on the battleground, as the men in the center of the photograph are being wetted down by a stream of water from a fire hose directed from inside the building.
Group portrait of boys working in #9 Breaker Pennsylvania Coal Company, Hughestown Borough, Pittston, PA, 1908. (Photo by Lewis W. Hine/Buyenlarge/Getty Images)
Photograph of Breaker Boys and Woodward Coal Breakers, Kingston, Pennsylvania. Dated 1906. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 31: Photograph by Herbert William Hughes (d 1937). Hughes was elected a member of the Royal Photographic Society in 1893, and became a fellow two years later. (Photo by SSPL/Getty Images)
Coal Miners Using Automatic Conveyor (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Coal mining: Young boys working in Pennsylvania coal mine before the introduction of the child labor laws. Photograph ca. 1895 shows them standing with horses at mine entrances.
Red Jacket, West Virginia. Miner and wife with 5 children outside of tent.
Three Coal Breaker Boys, Woodward Coal Mines, Kingston, Pennsylvania, USA, circa 1890. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Mine 'Tipple Boy', West Virginia coal mine. Photograph by Lewis Hine, 1908. BPA 2 #3116.
Portrait of 15-year Old Boy Working as Trapper at Coal Mine, His only Job is to Open and Close the Door, West Virginia, USA, circa 1908. (Photo by: Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
Striking coal miners return to work at the Haveco Mine in West Virginia. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) 12/29/1951-West Frankfurt, IL- Weary and covered with coal dust after spending eight hours in the New Orient mine at West Frankfort, IL, John L. Lewis, United Mine Workers' head, pauses to answer reporters' questions. Lewis and other investigators are seeking the cause of the blast which recently took the lives of 119 miners.

The plan had sought to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants through a series of emissions caps. Fossil fuel companies and some states have said the regulations were too onerous and the plan was halted before it came into effect by the Supreme Court.

But the new closures show regulation is not the only pressure on coal. Cheap gas from record shale production over the past decade has made some older coal plants uneconomic, especially those that require costly upgrades to meet increasingly strict environmental rules, often imposed by states.

EPA officials had no immediate comment.

"It's ironic that this news comes the same week the Trump administration chose to roll back the Clean Power rule that would have reduced power plant climate-altering pollution," said Ilan Levin, Texas Director of anti-pollution pressure group the Environmental Integrity Project, in a statement on Friday.

The capacity of U.S. coal plants expected to shut in 2018 is now more than 13,600 MW compared with an expected 7,600 MW in 2017 and almost 13,000 MW in 2016. In 2015, power companies shut almost 18,000 MW of coal-fired generation, the most in any year.

Coal served as the primary fuel source for U.S. power plants for a century, but its use has been declining since a peak in 2007, around the same time drillers started pulling gas out of shale formations.

Gas became the leading power plant fuel in 2016 when the amount of coal used to produce electricity fell to its lowest level since 1982, according to federal data.

(Reporting By Emily Flitter and Scott DiSavino, Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)

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