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Friday, December 5, 2008

"Clean" Coal: Fact or Fiction?

Ann-Marie Luciano Bio

Sitting in traffic on 270 on the way home from DC to Monrovia (burning some fossil fuels myself), I caught part of an NPR story about the debate over "clean" coal technology. The Alliance for Climate Protection, an organization headed by former Vice President Gore, released a television ad on Thursday challenging the existence of "clean coal" technology. In a rare move for an environmental organization, the ad, which can be viewed here, claims that clean coal simply doesn't exist.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) of course has something to say about this. ACCCE claims that clean coal is an "evolutionary" term that has evolved over the past 30 years as new technologies have become available.

ACCCE refers to a "whole suit of technologies" that have allowed the coal industry to make improvements in reducing carbon emissions and other pollutants. When cornered as whether one can really say that there is "clean" coal if the coal still produces some of the not-so-clean outputs, the ACCCE representative said that everyone has a different definition of "clean" but that most Americans consider coal a "clean" technology despite this. (It was pointed out that the coal industry spends a lot money in marketing to convince Americans – rightly or wrongly – that there is such a thing as "clean" coal).

According to Al Gore, there is a reason the power industry insists on repeating the mantra of "clean" coal: to prevent regulation. If there is clean coal technology now, Americans won't demand regulations on coal because they won't see the need for it.

The problem for ACCCE and the power industry is that the proof is in the pudding. A study done by the consulting firm of McKinsey and Co. found that carbon capture and sequestration technology (whereby 90% of the carbon dioxide emitted by coal plants would be captured and stored) could be possible in Europe by 2030. That certainly isn't "now" or close to it.

By 2030, many believe the worst of the global warming damage will be done and and that damage may be irreversible. Although any and all energy solutions that reduce emissions should be researched and considered, I wonder how much the mirage of clean coal technology or the "drill baby drill" mentality will divert us from shifting to true energy independence.


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