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The Challenge (Coal continued)

Clean Coal?

"Clean coal is not an actual invention, a physical thing --
it is an advertising slogan. Like ‘fat-free donuts’ or ‘interest-free loans."

  _______________Jeff Goodell

The coal industry spent $35,000,000 in 2008 to make the phrase “clean coal” a part of our vernacular. The mission of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is to promote the branding concept of “clean coal.” This money is spent on campaign contributions to lawmakers and on television advertising (video) to the public.

“Clean coal” does not exist.

The goal of this "clean coal" campaign was to cover up the glaring fact that not one of the 600 commercial scale coal-fired power plants in the United States uses “clean coal” technology. NOT ONE! More to the point, in spite of all the false advertising to the contrary, there is no known technology that can be used to retrofit any existing coal fired power plant with "clean coal" technology. Such a technology requires the capture and permanent storage (video) of carbon dioxide, a very expensive and questionable practice, along with sulfuric acid (to prevent acid rain) as well as the capture and storage of toxic heavy metals including : mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium. Such "clean coal" technology is a highly costly process to achieve. Not surprisingly it has yet to be proven as feasible on a commercial scale. Furthermore, it requires a whole new power plant design to implement.

Hypothetical carbon capture "Clean Coal" technology
cannot be applied to existing coal fired power plants.

It takes a completely different technology and a different type of power plant to even attempt to capture carbon from the burning of coal. No existing coal fired power plant can make coal "clean" and affordably free of carbon dioxide pollutants by simply adding a scrubber or switching to the burning of another type of coal.

The only way to clean up these pre-existing coal fired power plants
is to shut them down.

That the whole hypothetical "clean coal" process is extremely expensive, likely to be impractical and not competitive in terms of cost is an issue that the coal industry has failed to mention in its advertising campaigns. When placed within the context of the competitive price of wind power right now, "clean coal" becomes a very dubious concept indeed. The coal industry, in fact, has conspired to hoodwink the public and the Congress with the advertising slogan (video) "Clean Coal", a process that has never been demonstrated (video) to exist on a commercial scale or to be economically viable.

However, the Coal Problem is not going to go away by itself as it is the most plentiful fossil fuel available in the United States (270 billions tons). China and Russia have far less (126 and 176 billion tons respectively). The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal. Our challenge is to control ourselves and negotiate agreements with our closest allies, Canada and Australia.

Coal is also among the "cheapest" sources of electrical power, if you ignore the fact that the toxic by-products of mining and burning it (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, soot, sulfur dioxide that turns to sulfuric acid as well as toxic heavy metals including mercury, lead, arsenic and chromium) are destroying our environment. The burning of coal is literally poisoning the air we breathe, the food we eat, the water we drink and the climate upon which we all depend.

Dangerous Fantasy

Jeff Goodell, author of the book Big Coal, contends that the easy political decision to mine and burn coal preserves the illusion that we can "drill and burn our way to prosperity" instead of pushing forward to the new and very different technologies of wind, solar and other renewable resources: "The biggest problem with our bounty of coal is not what it does to our mountains or the atmosphere, but what it does to our minds. It preserves the illusion that we don't have to change our lives. Given the profound challenges we face with the end of cheap oil and the arrival of global warming, this is a dangerous fantasy." Jeff Goodell - Our Black Future - New York Times (June 23, 2006)

It will take an organized act will to discipline, replace and then eliminate the 600 coal fired power plants that now exist in the United States. These plants cannot be made "Clean". The coal industry lobbyists are endeavoring RIGHT NOW to protect these old-tech power plants from the Clean Air Acts, just as they protected existing coal fired power plants from acid rain regulations during the passage of the first Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Clean Air Acts are indeed applicable to the regulation of carbon emission from these plants. This regulation is in the hands of the EPA, a department of the executive branch of the federal government.

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