Democrats & Liberals Archives

Just Say 'No!' to Coal

There needs to be a call to action. Big Coal (like Peabody Energy Company aka Peabody Coal Company) is pushing hard to get us (via the government) to make massive investments in coal, and coal to liquid fuel legislation. The plan is to take our current estimated 250 year supply of coal and use it as a liquid fuel to replace imported oil. Imported oil makes up 60% of the oil used in the United States.

This plan is so stupid on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start.

Coal is being pushed as an "alternative" fuel. Oh please spare me. Coal is neither "clean," "green," or renewable. There is a big push to increase coal for electric generation as well. Even though the "scrubbing" technology for emissions have improved, more plants using more coal means more emissions - including CO2 emissions. Let us not forget that "energy" is not the only crisis facing us. There is the "little" issue of global warming. The New York Times (May 29, 2007) produced the nice graphic (below) comparing the greenhouse gas emissions o0f different fuel sources. It is instructive in this discussion:


As you can see from the graphic, even with carbon sequestration, the coal to liquid fuel production increases emissions. Without sequestration is increases emissions dramatically (119% according to the NY Times. Now the rub is that carbon sequestration is virtually an undeveloped technology. It involves capturing emissions and "putting" them somewhere other than the air. The most investigated suggestions are: on the seabed; underground; and in used up oil and gas wells. To the best of my knowledge, there is no commercially active sequestration projects on line yet. Therefore, we do not know whether this will even work - nor what the consequences are of doing it. Therefore, it is unlikely that these plants will start with their emissions being "sequestered." That will happen as a "retro-fit" sometime in the future.

The next dumb part of this is that if our current coal supply is estimated to last 250 years at existing use levels, what happens if we quadruple the use? Well, that 250 years just became 60 years (or less). Then what?

Dumb idea take three. Can we replace 60% of our current oil consumption with liquefied coal? That seems highly unlikely to me. I do not know how much usable liquid fuel one can get out of say a ton of coal, but it would seem to take one heck of a lot of coal to produce 12 million barrels of gasoline a day (we currently use approximately 20 million * 60% foreign oil = 12 mil.). That translates into roughly 505 million gallons of gasoline (from coal) a day (roughly 42 galls in a barrel). Now that is one heck of a production line, and my estimate of quadrupling coal use just shot up dramatically. Say maybe 10-15 years of coal in the U.S. instead of 250 years?

Dumb idea take 4. This is expensive and the plan is to subsidize research, development, and production. Subsidize means that our tax dollars will underwrite the cost of this little adventure while we may look at $4.00 per gallon pump prices as a real steal. This is a freaking bonanza to the "energy" industry, but it is not a bonanza for us, or the next generation, or for the planet.

Among those who have sponsored and promoted this legislation is Presidential candidate Barak Obama. I am sure he feels he is representing Illinois coal interests with this support. However, one might wonder whether Illinois is represented - much less the rest of us.

I do not see one positive thing in this plan, but it is being pushed and pushed hard. The goal is to have it passed and to Bush by early July (2007). If you want to express yourself to your legislators, then I recommend that you do so quickly.

Here is a link to get you to your Congress people and Senators - Contacting Congress

Resources for further information
CNN Money. 5/24/07. Lawmakers mull coal-to-liquid fuel plans

Edmund Andrews. NY Times. 5/29/07. Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process

Senate Bill 154 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Energy Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. BUNNING (for himself, Mr. OBAMA, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. PRYOR, Ms. MURKOWSKI,

Senate Bill 155 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. BUNNING (for himself, Mr. OBAMA, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. PRYOR, Ms. MURKOWSKI,

House Bill 370 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. DAVIS of Kentucky (for himself, Mr. RAHALL, Mr. WHITFIELD, Mr. PICKERING, Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky, Mr. DUNCAN, Mr. LAHOOD, Mr. BOUSTANY, Mrs. CUBIN, Mr. BACHUS, Mr. EVERETT, Mr. ROGERS of Alabama, Mr. BOUCHER, Mr. LINCOLN DAVIS of Tennessee, Mr. SHIMKUS, Mr. CANNON, Mrs. DRAKE, Mr. LEWIS of Kentucky, Mr. REHBERG, Mr. HASTERT, and Mr. YARMUTH)

Posted by Rowan Wolf at May 31, 2007 4:08 PM
Comment #221791

Perhaps this bill is a strategy to get support for more nuclear plants or for permitting and building more refineries or for drilling in those places which have been off limits. After all, that’s what congress does best…compromise.

Posted by: Jim at May 31, 2007 4:17 PM
Comment #221796

One little problem I see with your chart. How does one produce electricity? Something is fishy here. Electricity is an end product, not an energy source.

Frankly greenhouse gases aren’t are largest problem. The very immediate problem we have is energy independence. Without that, we will be involved in another world war in the next 10 to 20 years. Is it O.K. to you, if millions of US citizens die in a global oil war, for the sake of emissions reduction?

I think we can do both, but we cannot resort to couched positions of some utopian ideal. We must be flexible, inventive and willing to give, to acheive energy independence.

What is the carbon footprint of a world war? Where is that on your chart?

Posted by: barneygoogle at May 31, 2007 4:49 PM
Comment #221803

Thanks, Rowan. This is the first I’ve heard of coal-to-liquid legislation.

Usually, when people talk about “clean coal”, they’re talking about Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle (IGCC) power plants that create clean-burning gas and sequester the carbon.

Posted by: American Pundit at May 31, 2007 5:10 PM
Comment #221817

The real question of reducing carbon emissions is how to economically get from here to there. Conversion of coal to cleaner burning material is one part of that. Having read through things I think using it as an alternative fuel is a bit of a boondoggle. Cleaning it up for power generation, though, is a good alternative to the far more dirtier variety, and a way to transition from coal-fired plants to ones that have a lower carbon footprint.

I think somebody said somewhere that if we could use clean coal technology to power some hybrids that this might altogether have a much better effect than the status quo or the sort of coal to liquid fuel scenario we see in that legislation.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at May 31, 2007 7:41 PM
Comment #221828

Presumably, the virtuous Dems in congress will prevent anything untoward from happening, just as they took the hard line on ethics. (Stephen Colbert explained it best. He said when the Dems talked of ethics reform they didn’t mean they would change the ethics of congress, but that the public should change the way the public views ethics, i.e. lower the standards).

Seriously, we should not subsidize coal, but if you look at what is happening now you recognize that this is very similar to the Carter synfuel debacle. This is what happens when government works on energy problems. Government by its nature is status quo. It will protect existing jobs and processes.

The answer is a carbon tax. A carbon tax rewards conservation and alternative fuels but leaves the choices to the people.

Posted by: Jack at May 31, 2007 9:30 PM
Comment #221833

I agree that we don’t need to add the transportation sector to the burden on coal in this way. (Although, it is true that if or when electric vehicles become more common they will be to a large degree fueled by coal burning plants). To be fair to Obama, he says he only favors coal liquefaction to produce vehicle fuel only if that fuel is cleaner than petroleum. It’s unclear to me how his caveat is addressed in the proposed legislation.

Posted by: Gerrold at May 31, 2007 10:12 PM
Comment #221846

Jack,have you been drinking the cool aid to much.I sometimes i get headaches,reading what you have to say.Coal liguefaction is a bad idea.It is the cause of global warming.I think we congress,should invest in solar,wind energy,biofuel.We also need price controls.Along with a gas tax for those, that go into the city.It will make them ride a bus,take a bike to work,or just walk to work.

Posted by: the libertine at May 31, 2007 11:17 PM
Comment #221847

If you look at the chart it is not “my” chart, it is the EPA’s. Further it is looking at green house gas emissions of fuel sources to replace gasoline - not at electric production. This is also what the proposed legislation is about - not about energy production for electricity.

Posted by: Rowan at June 1, 2007 12:05 AM
Comment #221861


Your headache must have prevented your understanding what I wrote. I am against coal liquification. It is a mistake we made back in the Carter synfuel days. Good it didn’t work then.

Price controls are an exceedingly stupid and counter productive measure. We need HIGHER energy prices. That is why I favor a carbon tax.

I have to leave now. I am going to ride my bike to work. It is 17 miles one-way. Those of you who do more can feel superior to this 52 year old Republican, but I expect most talk the talk, but the drive the car instead of walking the walk.

Posted by: Jack at June 1, 2007 8:09 AM
Comment #221871


Thanks for the clarification, I’m still not sure why anyone is against research. Whether the government needs to fund this is another issue.

I agree coal, liquefied or not, would be a lousy automobile fuel.

My point that an oil war will make these costs pale in comparison still stands.

Posted by: barneygoogle at June 1, 2007 9:34 AM
Comment #221874

Rowan et al
Thanks for bringing this up. It is a bad idea on several fronts. One area where we might find some allies to stop this blowing open of yet one more federal vault is with real conservatives. Peabody can fund their own damn plants. I read the Times article and Peabody alone has over three trillion dollars worth of coal reserves if liqufication becomes a useful alternative.Plenty of room for free market forces to work without tax dollars.
Barnygoogle does have a point. Energy independance is vital geopolitically and a worthy goal. Jacks thought of a carbon tax is also desireable. Cap and trade works.
Part of the coal package calls for increaseing subsidies if oil prices fall below $40 a barrel. Interesting. There was a federal attempt at synthetic fuels developement in the 70’s. It failed and cost several billion dollars. Why did it fail? Oil prices plunged.OPEC and company,including US oil firms,can and will drop prices to destroy the alternate industry. They have before. Instead of direct subsidies to the alternate industry and to oil companies to increase domestic exploration we should urge congress to do what they do best,tax.There was a time that tarriffs financed the whole federal government and were invaluable in building US agriculture into a model for the world. Establish a floating tarriff on imported oil to keep the price about $50 dollars a barrel. If OPEC or other market forces lower the price the tarriff automatically goes into effect. This would bring the needed stability necessary to bring the large capitalization to every aspect of the potential alternates to our continued dangerious reliance on forign oil. If this makes sense to you bring it up to representitives while talking to them about this coal boondogle.

Posted by: bills at June 1, 2007 10:12 AM
Comment #221891

Coal is not always pure carbon and contains other elements, like sulfur, which are poisonous and problematic and have to go somewhere if they are in the coal that is being made into a liquid or gas. I can not find the article, but Carl Pope of the Sierra Club is a good source for information on pollution problems.

Hooray to the 52 yr old Rpblcn who rides his bike 17 miles to work. I used to do that, until I got fed up with people trying to steal any part of the bike that was not locked down. I also got hit by a big ride Ford LTD, while crossing the entrance to a parking lot, by an impaired person coming out of a fake restaurant, real bookie joint.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 1, 2007 1:08 PM
Comment #221939

Ohrealy, minor point:Sulfur itself is not poisonous, but it reacts with air to form sulfurous dioxide(SO2) and sulfurous trioxide (SO3). These gases react with water vapor to form Sulfuric acid (H2SO4), a main component of acid rain.

Everyone, when it comes to coal I am very much a skeptic of any plans to convert one of the dirtiest fuels known to humanity into something that releases less CO2 than gasoline or oil. If it is possible, I bet someone will develop it in the private sector using private money after either a Cap/Trade or Carbon Tax system is in place. Unfortunately we have neither a a Cap/Trade nor a Carbon Tax system to mitigate global warming, so our first goal should be putting one in place; not trying to subsidize a technology with limited promise for success with government money.

Posted by: Warren P at June 1, 2007 9:27 PM
Comment #221958

Jack rides his sons bike to work.It makes him seem hip and cool,to some of the young guys at work.Jack can you do stunts on your bike.

Posted by: the libertine at June 2, 2007 12:32 AM
Comment #221967

It is remarkable how some in Congress, the Whitehouse, etc. believe that WE the PEOPLE are really that ignorant, unread, uncaring, insensitive, and easily led.
When this issue arose, again, the first question I posed to my Senators is; “Doesn’t anyone remember how much coal pollutes the air we breathe?” Call me a bit eccentric, but, I believe there are ways to clean up the air and the environment by using intelligent choices, instead of simply following the BIG Conglomerates, BIG Oil, BIG Industry, BIG Brother, and greed, to the slaughter houses.

Posted by: Ro H. at June 2, 2007 1:55 AM
Comment #222001


I have a nice road bike. My current one I got in 1997, but I have been riding a bike to work since I started to work. I do not do tricks. I do not think anybody thinks it is cool for me to ride the bike. I have long noticed that real good things take a back seat to “cool” good things.

Posted by: Jack at June 2, 2007 2:05 PM
Comment #222032

Some might find this interesting:

Posted by: Sandra Davidson at June 2, 2007 8:10 PM
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