President-elect Donald Trump's choice of Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt to lead the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that his administration will pursue radically different energy policies from its predecessor's.

Pruitt is a climate-science denier, and has sued the agency he is being asked to lead multiple times.

He has threatened to dismantle the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan, which seeks to set emissions limits for power plants, to end what he calls the "war on coal."

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But coal will likely continue to decline even if environmental regulations are gutted.

Because economic factors, not regulations, are behind an ongoing series of coal power-plant retirements, argues a December 2016 Brookings Institution paper.

It says that the low price of natural gas is encouraging electric utilities to shift away from coal, noting that natural gas was expected to surpass coal generation in the U.S. for the first time in 2016.

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

Coal, by Flicker user oatsy40 (Used Under CC License)

A continuing decline in prices is also spurring renewable energy growth.

Solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal power sources provided 16.9 percent of electricity generation in the first half of 2016, up from 13.7 in all of 2015, according to the Brookings Institution.

New installations of solar-generating capacity were also expected to outpace both natural gas and wind in 2016, according to Energy Department data. This is the first time that has occurred.

ALSO SEE: More solar energy was added in 2016 than natural gas or wind

While natural gas and renewable energy have grown, a number of coal-fired power plants have been retired in recent years.

Utilities retired 1.48 gigawatts of coal-generating capacity in 2015, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), representing about 5 percent of U.S. coal-generating capacity.

Another 6.5 GW of coal-fired generation were retired in the first half of 2016.

Ontario Power Generation Nanticoke Generating Station coal power plant

Ontario Power Generation Nanticoke Generating Station coal power plant

The EIA has identified a further 14 GW of coal-generation capacity earmarked for retirement in 2028.

This year, Massachusetts plans to retire Brayton Point, the largest remaining coal-fire power plant in New England, while Kentucky is expected to retire 9 percent of its coal-generating capacity.

MORE: We're there! Renewables now cheapest unsubsidized electricity in U.S. (Dec 2016)

Maryland plans to retire 22 percent of its coal capacity by 2020, and Minnesota plans to retire 35 percent by 2025.

Significant coal-plant retirements have also reportedly been announced in Missouri, North Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.


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