Democrats & Liberals Archives

Clean Coal?

Oxymoron. How on earth can we call coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, clean? It not only emits more CO2 than any other fuel when it burns, it destroys our environment when it is mined, makes people dirty and sick when handled, and kills off innocent bystanders. We must get rid of coal.

We all know that underground coal mining is dirty, dangerous and unhealthy. We have heard of many cave-ins in which miners died. Now the emphasis seems to be on above-ground mining. This is just as bad or maybe worse: This mining destroys mountains, pollutes streams and kills wildlife and human life:

Since the mid-1990s, coal companies have pulverized Appalachian mountaintops in West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee. Peaks formed hundreds of millions of years ago are obliterated in months. Forests that survived the last ice age are chopped down and burned. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that by 2012, two decades of mountaintop removal will have destroyed or degraded 11.5 percent of the forests in those four states, an area larger than Delaware. Rubble and waste will have buried more than 1,000 miles of streams.

The newspapers recently told us how "clean coal" burns. The TVA has several coal-fired plants which have ponds and retaining walls for catching the toxic ash it produces. One such wall broke down:

Millions of yards of ashy sludge broke through a dike at TVA's Kingston coal-fired plant Monday, covering hundreds of acres, knocking one home off its foundation and putting environmentalists on edge about toxic chemicals that may be seeping into the ground and flowing downriver....

About 2.6 million cubic yards of slurry — enough to fill 798 Olympic-size swimming pools — rolled out of the pond Monday, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Cleanup will take at least several weeks, or, in a worst-case scenario, years....

Coal ash can carry toxic substances that include mercury, arsenic and lead, according to a federal study. The amount of poisons in TVA's ashy wastes that could irritate skin, trigger allergies and even cause cancer or neurological problems could not be determined Monday, officials said.

A couple of weeks later, there was another spill, this time in Alabama:

“For the second time in less than one month, the citizens served by the Tennessee Valley Authority have been unnecessarily exposed to a multitude of health risks due to a failure of a coal ash pond,” said Adam Snyder, executive director of Conservation Alabama. “This unfortunate incident highlights TVA’s over-reliance on coal for energy production and a lack of adequate health safety standards and enforcement...."
Clean coal?

More than these terrible effects, we worry about the huge amount of CO2 coal-fired plants produce. "Clean coal" propagandists keep telling us not to worry. They know how to catch the CO2 and sequester (a fancy word for store) it, either in the ground or in the ocean. As of today, NOTHING of the sort is working. If, perchance, researchers some day do develop the technique, I'm sure it will be too expensive - taking away the main virtue of inexpensive coal: Generators in coal-fired plants will need to be modified; means would be needed to carry the CO2 to proper destinations; and sequestering will take technological know-how.

Clean coal?

Ridiculous. It should not be called "clean coal" but "dirty coal." Dirty is what it is in every sense of the word. Any fuel, fossil or non-fossil, would be better than coal.

What should we do? Some suggest a cap-and-trade system. I say "no" since this will allow coal polluters to wiggle out of doing the right thing. Others suggest a carbon tax. I'm against a tax too, because it would place a burden on the poor and it will not help our faltering economy.

First and foremost, we should do as Al Gore suggests: NO MORE COAL-FIRED ELECTRIC PLANTS. Make these killing monsters illegal to build.

Then we must obliterate the market for coal. To do this we should enact a complement of the carbon tax. Instead of taxing coal to make it more expensive relative to other fuels, we can achieve the same result by making renewable-and-clean fuels cheaper than coal.

We may implement this with subsidies to companies developing green fuels and tax cuts to those purchasing green fuels. This solution is easier to enact than any type of tax. More important, it fits into President-Elect Obama's stimulus plan.

We don't want "clean coal," or even "dirty coal." We want "extinct coal."

Posted by Paul Siegel at January 13, 2009 2:31 PM
Comments
Comment #273534

AMEN!! Clean coal those two words should not even be allowed to be spoken at the same time.

Posted by: Carolina at January 13, 2009 3:04 PM
Comment #273545

Too bad Obama and his incoming energy secretary disagree with you.

Posted by: TheTraveler at January 13, 2009 6:48 PM
Comment #273551

Paul, what a resoundingly non-sensical position.

If, and we can, turn human fecal and urine waste into entirely benign and beneficial recycled products, we can surely find ways to take nature’s waste (coal), and turn it into a host of benign and beneficial recycled products.

The only question, can we do this cost effectively? The lie is not that coal can’t be made a clean source of energy. The lie is that we can do that and keep coal source energy cheap.

The lie is that clean coal energy is affordable and competitively priced to other sources. That is the lie.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 13, 2009 8:19 PM
Comment #273554

David you are quite right. I can think of one effective method that would eleminate all emitions from a coal fired plant. The principle is sound and actually very simple, but the costs are going to be astronomicle.

Posted by: Ted at January 13, 2009 9:56 PM
Comment #273558

Paul, Carbon sequestration technologies exist. They are rooted in 19th century reaserch. The problem is cost, scale, and will.

Posted by: Ted at January 13, 2009 11:36 PM
Comment #273592

Burning coal will always create ash containing contaminants that have to be disposed of somehow. Clean coal is an oxymoron, the same as saying clean dirt. Unfortunately, there will be more of Mr. Peabody’s coal company in our future

Posted by: ohrealy at January 14, 2009 5:01 PM
Comment #273616

I agree with the proposition that clean coal is possible, but not cheap. The cleanliness, of course, will be in where the nasty stuff ends up, not whether it’s brought into being.

Clean coal technology should be an option we take. But it should not be the top priority. Wind and solar should be. Other alternatives should be.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at January 15, 2009 10:09 AM
Comment #273646


We need to eliminate both coal and oil. Can we do both at the same time? If not, which should take priority?

Posted by: jlw at January 15, 2009 4:41 PM
Comment #273649

jlw, oil should be the top priority of the two, since, our foreign dependence upon its supply adds potentially negative contingencies which our own abundant supplies of coal do not. A no brainer.

Posted by: David R. Remer at January 15, 2009 4:52 PM
Comment #273670

I’ve only heard this argument one place before…

This is were Mr. Siegel got the idea for this article: From one of the most poorly produced, inaccurate and unscientific adds in the history of television. He did at least watch it all the way through, though… The irony of this add is that if you don’t actually watch it, you hear an add promoting clean coal!

So what does this say about Paul Siegel? He’s not only the kind of guy who believes anything he sees on TV; He also watches and believes the adds!

Not the best lifestyle for someone who fancies himself a political commentator…

Posted by: Observe at January 16, 2009 3:31 AM
Comment #273677

Observe, critique the message, not the messenger. Failure to comply will result in the suspension of your comment privileges.

Posted by: WatchBlog Manager at January 16, 2009 9:54 AM
Comment #274011

“”Burning coal will always create ash containing contaminants that have to be disposed of somehow”” Corning INC. has made converters for coal that do the same thing as the converters on your car, the problem is finding cheaper ways of sequestration.

Posted by: Rodney Brown at January 21, 2009 6:40 PM
Comment #274013

And leading the way to filter out the Mercury .”“Coal-burning sends as much as 300 tons of mercury into the atmosphere each year, with the nation’s 1,100 electricity-generating utilities accounting for nearly 50 tons. As many as 630,000 children born each year in the United States — where emissions limits are likely to be tightest first — are at risk of learning disabilities and physical ailments related to the neurotoxin.

Corning expects its filter will be cheaper and more effective than a current technique of injecting activated carbon chemicals into flue gas. While the chemicals absorb mercury, they can also contaminate a plant’s lucrative fly ash residues, an ingredient in cement and other construction uses.

Gadkaree’s filter is made of carbon, an unfamiliar material in Corning’s labs, but shaped into honeycombs, which hits the comfort zone.

The bricklike honeycomb contains hundreds of tiny passages impregnated with chemicals that stabilize and corral mercury particles. It is based on a ceramic honeycomb invented by Corning in the early 1970s that sits at the heart of the smog-busting catalytic converter in automobiles.

For a 500-megawatt station, a network of filters will need to store all the mercury captured over the course of a year — a typical maintenance cycle when filters could then be replaced.

The big question is “will that 90 percent capture hold up as we make the filter larger and run ever longer periods” in real-life tests, Gadkaree said. “Back in 2004, I would have said the probability (of success) is about 10 percent. Now I’d say maybe 50 percent.”

Posted by: Rodney Brown at January 21, 2009 7:06 PM
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