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Climate Change Impacts on Coal Plant Permitting: A Survey

Tom Lindley, Ivan Gold, Stephen Higgs, Resources Development and Climate Change (2008)

In 2002, the United States military conducted war games to assess the consequences of a “swarming” attack at sea by large numbers of speedboats carrying explosives and suicide crews. The results were devastating. In one game, the US Navy lost 16 major warships, including an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious ships, all in attacks lasting 5-10 minutes. Fleet defenses were overwhelmed by large numbers of small, agile speedboats, some armed with rockets and other weapons, some operating as manned torpedoes.

The games showed that a multiple attack on multiple fronts can overwhelm the most sophisticated defense systems. This might be a metaphor for today's coal power plant industry. In addition to all the previous environmental challenges mounted against new or “modified” coal-fired electric generating plants, the opponents now have another weapon--climate change attributable to coal plant emissions of greenhouse gases (“GHGs”).2 Coal plant opponents have organized into a collective front to wage multi-level challenges against existing and proposed coal plants. In fact, there is a website at where individuals and organizations post information on challenges to coal mining, coal-fired electrical generation, coal-based synthetic fuels, and more. We think the coal industry will weather these and other climate change challenges, but the near term is unc