Monday, February 16, 2009

Attack on "Clean Coal"

The "Clean Coal" concept seems to be taking a media beating lately. TV commercials, newspaper ads, emails, web sites and other grassroots attacks are working hard at chipping away at coal's image.

I'm no fan of coal. It pollutes the air, water and land as it is mined and burned. It is most often strip mined, which leads to the destruction of many thousands of acres of wilderness. Outside of the number of people it employs in this country, I see very little upside to continuing its use. Its only upside is that it is cheaper than most other carbon-based fuels. Once you consider the external impacts of pollution and the human toll, I think coal's real cost would be considerably higher.

Of course, I'm a natural gas guy, so I'm a bit biased. Natural gas is no panacea, as it is another carbon-based, limited natural resource, but compared to coal it's terrific.

In any case, I've been interested in the anti-coal push lately. I've been wondering if the natural gas industry is in some way behind it. In my brief research, however, I haven't noticed this. Most of the anti-coal groups are environmental groups.

Interesting media blitzes I've noticed lately:
  • - The Reality Coalition sponsors television ads and a slick web site that was launched in December 2008.
  • - A project of the Waterkeeper Alliance and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. It was featured in the Sunday New York Times this past weekend. They focus on trying to prevent new coal plants from being built. They draw attention to the various environmental impacts of coal.
  • - A web site with videos that is affiliated with the DeSmog Project and Greenpeace. They point out the environmental impacts and draw specific attention to the strip mining aspect of coal mining.
  • - Another advocacy web site.

There are plenty more out there. Google "clean coal" and you will get equal parts protest and industry spin.

Additionally, there is a significant push afoot to reduce mercury output from the nation's power plants. The EPA has been working on this for years (even during the Bush administration), but the Obama administration will definitely push it. The costs associated with scrubbing smoke stacks and implementing "clean coal" technology will definitely have an impact on the surface economic cost of coal.

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