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The Challenge (Coal continued)

Federal Efforts to Regulate of Coal

Let's investigate current failures to regulate the coal industry. In the past, the federal government has inadequately managed the smoke stack pollutants that cause acid rain (Chapter 2) and provided no federal regulation of mercury pollution that has contaminated fish stocks in all fifty states. Strip mining, toxic ash ponds and abandoned mine tailings represent horrific and ongoing environmental insults. Coal mining remains a dangerous and poorly regulated industry. These failures are pertinent to any discussion of further attempts to regulate the coal industry.

The Real Acid Rain Story

Particularly pertinent is the acid rain legislation. When the Clean Air Act was amended in 1970 and 1977, the coal industry argued that many of the nation's older power plants would be retired and replaced by cleaner, new power plants and therefore should be exempt form new (1970s) emission regulations being established for SO2 and NO. Because of the loopholes written into law, many of these pre-existing coal-fired power plants remain largely exempt from modern, state-of-the-art pollution control requirements. These aging power plants have become "cash cows" for the coal industry and remain in business to this day.

Pending Legislation (2009 and 2010)

Unfortunately, congress is currently creating similar loopholes with regard to CO2 emissions for all of the U.S.'s existing coal fired power plants. Additional exclusions have been extended to new coal fired power plants (Waxman-Markey, 2009). These are to be included to the list of never-ending CO2 emitters. The proposed legislation also protects these power plants from the Clean Air Act, which the Supreme Court ruled should be used to regulate CO2 emissions. In short, the legislation now taking shape in the senate and already passed by the House seeks to block any form of carbon emission regulations for the coal industry.

The exclusions of these pre-existing coal fired power plants from regulation will prevent us from protecting the planet from the effects of irreversible and catastrophic climate change. This "grandfather" policy combined with extremely weak caps and phony "offsets" establishes a 20 year waiting period for the "clean coal" tooth-fairy (video) to appear.

The worst aspects of this emerging legislation are that:

  1. It delays action into the distant future: 80% reduction in carbon emissions by 2050.
  2. It guts the Clean Air Acts ability to regulate carbon emissions and protects the rights of polluters to pollute with CO2.
  3. It does not facilitate a steep ramp up of renewables, specifically wind which is imperative. The senate and house bill flattens out the investment in windpower to nearly nothing.
  4. It invests a tepid $100 billion over ten years into alternative energy and includes a wide range of dead end investments. The Chinese are investing $660 billion over the next 10 years to dominate in wind and solar technology.
  5. It isn't clear from the leaked summaries that there is anything in the bill regarding the building of a smart grid.
  6. It gives the gift of another bubble to Wall Street by setting up phony "cap and trade" trading offsets and allowances while doing nothing real about carbon emissions.

It appears to be fundamentally business as usually and the climate be damned. And that is before the bill is weakened further as it progresses through the Senate!

The Legislation Needed to Stabilize Climate Change

We need a new approach. To stabilize the climate we need to drop below 350 ppm (Chapter 2) atmospheric carbon dioxide. Jim Hansen and other leading climate scientists have made it very clear that to achieve this goal, we cannot wait until 2050 to be at 80% reductions of CO2. Such a delay would commit the world to extremely dangerous and irreversible climate change.

To drop below 350 ppm atmospheric CO2,
we have to severely limit fossil fuel carbon emission over the next 20 years.

To achieve the drop to 350 ppm of atmospheric CO2, top scientists strongly recommend that we limit further atmospheric carbon emissions to another 10 to at most 15 ppm CO2. If we continue emitting carbon dioxide at our current rate, we will reach an additional 20 ppm in less than 10 years.

How do we start dropping our carbon emissions? Recall that the burning of coal produces more CO2 per unit of energy (Chapter 3) than any other fossil fuel. Given coal's litany of other severe environmental issues, coal must be the first target. Jim Hansen and many other top scientists urge that we formulate a rational energy policy and shut down our irredeemable coal fired power plants in the next 10 to 15 years across the modern industrialized world. This must be accompanied by a full shut down by 2030 of all coal fired power plants around the world.

"The important point is that atmospheric carbon dioxide will peak at a value somewhere in the range 400 ppm to 425 ppm — if coal emissions are phased out by 2030 and if unconventional fossil fuels are not used significantly."

We have a climate to stabilize and time is up.

Failure to take action, will lock in catastrophic climate change for eons to come.

Protecting these coal fired power plants from the regulation of their CO2 emissions would be an act of gross negligence. Yet that very protection from CO2 regulation is currently being written into law by both houses of congress!

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