Lump of coal in ‘clean’ energy stocking

Don’t be fooled—burning carbon isn’t an alternative to burning carbon

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A resident of Chico for more than 30 years, John Callaway retired in 2006 as a laboratory chemist at the Water Pollution Control Plant.

The Heartland Institute’s convention last month had global-warming skeptics mounting their favorite hobbyhorses to campaign against all things environmental. This neo-con lobbying group has been financed by the carbon-energy industries (especially coal) and tobacco companies for many years. It insists that this is no longer the case, but since it no longer provides a list of its major donors, this claim is moot.

Heartland and its allies are hoping that the recent financial meltdown will put another nail in further climate studies or research into carbon-free energy generation.

Because of the recent instabilities in oil prices, neo-cons are promoting a huge increase in domestic coal consumption as a “clean” alternative to our energy problems. This cynically ignores the following:

1. Most coals contain 12 percent to 15 percent non-combustible minerals. This means that, ton per ton, 12 percent to 15 percent more coal has to be burned to match either petroleum or natural gas. These minerals contain considerable amounts of toxic sulfides and heavy metals.

2. If a coal-burning plant does not install proper pollution-control equipment on its smokestacks, it will seriously contaminate all the land and air downwind of that plant. There are still a significant number of coal-fired plants in the U.S. without adequate pollution control.

3. Pollution-control technologies do not destroy these contaminates, they only stockpile them as ash and cinders at the site where they were produced. Because of their high levels of heavy metals and sulfates, there is no cheap, safe way of disposing of them. Tens of millions of tons of these toxics stockpiled at about 1,300 sites within the U.S. are growing at a rapid rate.

Recently, in East Tennessee, a dam at a coal-fired electrical generating plant failed and flooded hundreds of acres of land under several feet of coal cinder slurries. A huge amount ended up in the Tennessee River, raising the levels of heavy metals as much as 300 times higher than permissible for potable water. Estimated cost of cleanup is at least $800 million.

4. These coal-burning industries are still releasing hundreds of billions of tons per year of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Sequestration, the storing of CO2 in rock strata or the deep ocean, is an innovative idea but has so many unknowns that it will not catch up with rising CO2 levels for another 15 to 20 years.

5. A directive by the Bush administration—on hold, for now, under Obama—would once again allow coal-mining companies to dispose of their waste rock by dumping it into adjacent, healthy valleys and streams, thereby permanently destroying them.

A person would have to be either deaf/blind or a charlatan to insist that coal technology is either “clean or cheap.”