What Happens After the Coal Plant Closes?

Sometime this summer, the EPA will issue regulations that limit carbon dioxide emissions from power generation, pushing more of the country’s 400 coal-fired power plants to close. The environmental and health benefits areundeniable, and overwhelming. The economic consequences for towns like Albright, where a coal plant can be one of the largest employers, are harder to predict. The agency’s opponents warn of severe economic hardship. The experience of towns that have already been through a plant closing suggests something more complicated.

In February 2012, FirstEnergy said the EPA’s rules on mercury emissions made three of its oldest and least efficient plants in West Virginia too expensive to keep operating, and they would be shut down by September. The local congressman, Republican David McKinley, called the news “devastating,” and said the closings would leave the plants’ 105 workers unemployed. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin called it “another example of how the EPA is costing us good jobs in West Virginia,” adding that “individuals, families and communities are forever changed by their short-sighted decisions.”

Last month, I visited each of the three towns where FirstEnergy had closed its plants, to see whether, three years later, those predictions had come to pass.

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