A lump of coal for breakfast

Coal is everywhere in the news. Which is a good thing. Especially when the news is bad. For example:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The country's fourth-largest coal producer, Massey Energy Co., has agreed to a $30 million settlement with the government over allegations that over seven years it routinely polluted hundreds of streams and waterways in West Virginia and Kentucky with sediment-filled waste water and coal slurry.


The pollution "destroyed streams, destroyed fish habitat. There was definitely an environmental impact here," Granta Nakayama, the assistant EPA administrator for enforcement, said in an interview. "We thought it was very serious."

The $20 million civil penalty is the largest ever for violations of the Clean Water Act, said Nakayama. "This is a landmark settlement for the environment, and raises the bar for the mining industry."

The story goes on to briefly describe the how the head of the mining company is in bed with the chief justice of West Virginia's supreme court, but that's not what this blog is all about, so onto the bigger picture, which involves the presidential campaigns. According to the Washington Post:

A group backed by the coal industry and its utility allies is waging a $35 million campaign in primary and caucus states to rally public support for coal-fired electricity and to fuel opposition to legislation that Congress is crafting to slow climate change.

The group, called Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, has spent $1.3 million on billboard, newspaper, television and radio ads in Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina.

One of its television ads shows a power cord being plugged into a lump of coal, which it calls "an American resource that will help us with vital energy security" and "the fuel that powers our way of life."

Can't argue with them there. Coal supplies have the country's electricity. The industry claims

-- that coal-fired power plants can be clean, and that more of them are needed to meet the growing demand for electricity -- comes when opposition to new coal plants is mounting because they generate greenhouse gases. In Kansas, where a state agency rejected a permit for two proposed coal plants, opinion polls show that roughly two out of three people opposed the plants. That sentiment, plus soaring construction costs and uncertainty about federal climate change legislation, last year prompted U.S. companies to abandon or postpone plans to build dozens of new coal plants.

In case you missed it, the real reason coal is getting desperate can also be found in another story, this from the LA TImes:

WASHINGTON -- America's headlong rush to tap its enormous coal reserves for electricity has slowed abruptly, with more than 50 proposed coal-fired power plants in 20 states canceled or delayed in 2007 because of concerns about climate change, construction costs and transportation problems.


But urgent questions are emerging about a fuel once thought to be the most reliable of all. Utilities are confronting rising costs and a lack of transportation routes from coal fields to generators, opposition from state regulators and environmental groups, and uncertainty over climate-change policies in Washington.

"Coal projects need more regulatory certainty before any new ones are going to get built in the near future," said David Eskelsen, a spokesman for PacifiCorp, which serves more than 1.6 million customers in six Western states. "The current situation does make utility planning very challenging."

Ah, yes. The old "we need regulatory certainty" argument. Wouldn't we all?

I'd love regulatory certainty over whether the next Congress will revive the tax incentives for hybrid cars. Wind and solar folks would love regulatory certainty when it comes to the same with their favored technologies. The oil industry would love regulatory certainty over the future of carbon taxes and cap-and-trade schemes. We'd all love regulatory certainty, almost as much as we'd love the regulations to do what we think it proper. But only death and tax are certain. Tax incentives, not so much.

Grow up, Big Coal. Or better yet, give it up. Your time is almost through. That may not be obvious yet. But it is. The only way you're going to survive is if you manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat in the next few years and find a way to cheaply and efficiently capture and store the CO2 you pump out. Carbon capture and sequestration is a wildly popular idea, giving presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama the necessary caveat to lend their support to the notion that it may still be possible to build more coal-fire plants, but the science is less than convincing. Which brings us to the last piece of news, headlined "Carbon Capture Remains Elusive."

In today's the New West Politics, the Voice of the Rocky Mountains (back in Montana territory again), we read that

The U.S. Department of Energy will fund a 10-year, $38 million project to study the long-term storage of carbon dioxide in deep geologic formations on the Gulf Coast. For the next 18 months, the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas will pump about a million tons a year of CO2 into brine formations up to 10,000 feet below ground, near the Cranfield oil field about 15 miles east of Natchez, Miss.

Sounds promising. Except that it's a 10-year program. And we don't have that kind of time to wait for the technology to mature. (Might as well build more nukes if we did.) Plus, as the story goes on to note:

The limitations of these efforts are daunting, though. The DOE program is studying only sequestration, the back end as it were of any large-scale capture and sequestration system. (The CO2 being injected in Mississippi is actually being trucked in from a naturally occurring formation nearby - not from power plants.)


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It is indeed a gloomy future when greed buys the legislators and the electorate. Carbon (CO2) sequestration: Is the CO2 separated from the Nitrogen in the stack emissions of the plants? What's that cost in efficiency?
I can imagine some old fields that could use this 'gas drive' for the tertiary production of petroleum.
Calling all Bean Counters; What have we got here?
How do we get from the fossil fuel to the sustainable/ renewable? Which way extinction?
Get to work, lads, we've got a problem.