June 11, 2009

Clean coal is still dirty

Dr. Carr's article reveals the truth about the notion of "clean coal." The rhetoric that the commodity is in fact clean is false. "Clean coal" is the coal industry's slogan to keep customers paying, using, and polluting. There just is no such thing as "clean coal" and claims saying so deserve criticism in order to help other healthier alternatives acquire more attention. Dr. Carr does well to identify and provide such attention in his article below.

The State
Editorial - Opinion Columns
Carr: The fantasy of 'clean coal'
Edward R. Carr - Guest Columnist
June 8, 2009

Proponents of the Pee Dee coal campus argue that the project will constitute an economic stimulus plan, providing jobs and holding down the cost of energy for an economically stressed state. They dismiss objections to the campus as efforts to play on raw emotions that ignore the facts. However, in making their arguments, they pick and choose their facts strategically.

The idea that this campus will produce cheap energy in the long term is not supported by facts. There is currently no such thing as “clean coal” technology. While we have some capacity for removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and therefore from the emissions of coal-fired plants, we do not have an established means of storing that gas. Current research on techniques for storing that carbon dioxide suggests that storage solutions are a long way off. “Catch and release” carbon dioxide scrubbing will do little to address the significant challenges posed by greenhouse gases.

Don’t take my word for it. Even proponents realize that the only thing this campus is likely to produce is traditional coal-fired energy, with all of its problems. After all, “clean coal” is meant to greatly reduce, if not eliminate, carbon emissions related to the generation of coal-fired energy. If proponents really expected it to produce clean energy, they would not be debating the impact of its carbon emissions.

But they do debate the impact, telling us we don’t need to worry about it because humans are responsible for only 5 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions (“Coal campus would bring needed jobs,” Hogan Gidley, May 26). This is terribly misleading.

The environmental fact that they choose to ignore is that it takes only very small shifts (measured in parts per million) in the total amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to trigger significant changes in climate. This is established science. An astonishingly broad set of actors from across the political spectrum, ranging from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to Gov. Mark Sanford, agrees on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — though they might disagree on how and by how much. It is disingenuous at best to suggest that such reductions are unnecessary by attempting to minimize the appearance of human impacts.

Claims that this campus has passed significant environmental regulatory hurdles do not speak to the greenhouse gas issue, as the Bush administration blocked the EPA from treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant. But the Obama administration’s EPA has been empowered to treat carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and is working up a regulatory structure to do just that. The regulatory environment in which the plant would come online will require either significant costs in retrofitting it to meet these new requirements, or the payment of significant fines to continue to operate out of compliance. Even if clean coal technology were to suddenly become viable, the storage of carbon dioxide will have its own costs. In all cases, they will be passed on to consumers just as surely as the higher cost of renewable energy.

Perhaps it is fitting that proponents of yesterday’s energy source rely on hazy claims about the science of climate change environmental regulation that tell us nothing about where we are going — only where we have been.

Dr. Carr is an assistant professor of geography at the University of South Carolina.

To see the article, click here

No comments:

Post a Comment