It has been two decades since state regulators attempted to gauge carbon’s societal impact. In December, the PUC decided to take another look at what is arguably the most controversial issue affecting coal plants in the United States.

Environmental groups, led by the Sierra Club and its national Beyond Coal Campaign, said the state needs to update its emission control rules, a move they hope would force Minnesota electric utilities to retire aging coal plants and turn away from coal as a major generation fuel.

Utilities and coal supporters are pushing back, touting the need to keep coal in the state’s generation mix even as Minnesota utility portfolios increasingly diversify to incorporate more renewable energy resources, particularly wind.

Now, Peabody, the world’s largest private-sector coal company, wants to enter the fray. The St. Louis-based company is hardly a disinterested observer, having supplied, through its Peabody COALSALES subsidiary, approximately 1.5 million tons of low-sulfur Powder River Basin coal to Minnesota power plants in 2013.

According to Peabody’s intervention petition, the coal was sold to three plants owned by Northern States Power — Sherburne County, Black Dog and Allen S. King, as well as Allete’s Clay Boswell and Laskin Energy Center plants.

Peabody attorneys recalled company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory H. Boyce’s keynote address at the 21st World Energy Congress in Montreal in 2010. Boyce outlined a multi-step plan to eliminate energy poverty and inequality “by unlocking the power of coal to advance energy security, generate economic stimulus and create environmental solutions,” they said.

Referred to as the “Peabody plan,” the initiative calls for creating energy access for all people by 2050; replacing 1,000 gigawatts of traditional coal plants with supercritical and ultra-supercritical plants, which are efficient and carbon-ready; developing within 20 years at least 100 major projects around the world to capture, store and use carbon dioxide from coal-based plants; deploying significant coal-to-gas, coal-to-chemicals and coal-to-liquids projects around the world over the next 10 years; and commercializing and deploying next-generation clean coal technologies to achieve continued environmental improvement and ultimately near-zero emissions.

More recently, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) issued a report in January that said the benefits of fossil-fuel energy to society far outweigh the social costs of carbon by a magnitude of 50 to 500 times.

“It is without question or debate that our national and global societies have benefited from fossil fuels. And those benefits will continue to be realized from coast to coast and around the globe for generations to come,” ACCCE President and CEO Mike Duncan said.