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Uneasy lies King Coal's crown

A hold on new coal plants hints it's time for a sooty monarch to clean up or step down.

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Old King Coal isn't a very merry old soul these days. A federal ruling delaying a proposed Utah power plant may shove this sooty monarch off his energy throne even as the drive toward cleaner sources, such as wind, promises to usurp this main supplier of US electricity.

Last week, an Environmental Protection Agency review panel ruled that an earlier agency decision allowing a coal plant to be built in Utah without taking into consideration carbon dioxide emissions needed further review and explanation.

In essence, the ruling puts the future of that coal plant and roughly 100 others now in the works on hold for at least a few months as the EPA mulls over how to respond. That places the aging sovereign's future in the hands of President-elect Barack Obama and the Democratic majority in Congress.

It also further boosts the concept that CO2 should be considered a pollutant regulated by government. Last year, the US Supreme Court ruled in a case known as Massachusetts v. EPA that the agency did have authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.

The review panel itself didn't set any new guidelines, which means environmentalists should restrain their enthusiasm for a while. A pause does, in fact, provide a welcome respite to think more deeply about America's energy future.

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