28 October 2008

Clean Coal? No Such Thing.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Everyone in this country has politics on the mind these days. No matter how you vote, everyone agrees it is an historic election.

While both candidates have said they support clean coal, I wonder exactly what that is!

I see lots of ads on TV and online about clean coal. These ads are sponsored by lobbying groups hired by the coal industry.

You can clean up the air pollution coming out of coal. You can drastically reduce the amount of soot, and sulphur, and other pollutants coming from coal fired power plants. Most plants have almost no emission controls at all. Why? Isn’t the clean air act requiring it?

Here is a dirty little secret. The Clean Air Act in 1972 required power plants to install emission controls when they rebuilt their plants. So they have not rebuilt them in 30 years! Well they have, but they have managed to use the acts wording to replace just about everything in the plant, without having to add emission controls!

The only way to make coal truly clean is to mine it in such a way that we do not totally ruin streams, and massacre millions of acres of hardwood forest. If you have not seen what is currently happening to the mountain tops in West Virginia, then you cannot really understand how dirty, and damaging coal is.

Let’s just pretend for a minute that we figure a way to stop lopping off mountains, and polluting streams with toxic materials. We still have the problem of Carbon. Coal is carbon and when you burn it, CO2 goes into the atmosphere. Until we find a way to capture that CO2 and store it, coal will still be very, very dirty.

In spite of the junk science on talk radio, and online, almost every expert on climate on this planet now believes we have less than 30 years to begin reducing our emissions. The world’s leading climate scientist Dr. James Hansen of NASA believes we have even less time than that. He thinks we are on our way to an ice free planet if we do not do something is less than 20 years!

The Sierra Club has a nice site explaining the options here:


It MIGHT be possible to capture the CO2 and mine coal in a way that is sustainable to our environment. Current estimates put the cost of coal done right at a price more expensive than wind, and solar.

So the next time you see one of those clean coal ads on TV, or online, Or either presidential candidate says they support clean coal technology. Just say what I tell my Environmental Science class at a local college. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS CLEAN COAL. Period.

One last thing. I have mentioned James Hansen several times in this journal. Jim Gandy, a good friend of mine, and one of the best Meteorologists on TV in Eastern America, got an interview with him last Friday. You can see the raw video courtesy WTLX here