The Spokesman-Review

Washington coal export strategy damages us all

Global C02 output expected to grow

This is the second of two parts dicussing the role of coal in today’s world. To read Part 1, click here.

King Coal eviscerates mountaintops. More than 2,300 people died in China last year in coal mining accidents. China is also on target to build and bring on line two coal-fired plants per week.

China has increased steel production from 140 million tons in 2000 to 419 million tons in 2006. Steel and coal go hand-in-hand. Its carbon dioxide emissions will reach 8 gigatons a year by 2030, equal to the entire world’s CO2 production today.

Let’s talk climate disruption tied to this carbon dioxide belching. James Hansen, U.S. climate change expert under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, offers reality therapy for those embracing coal and tar shale:

The development of these energy sources alone is enough “to produce a vastly different planet, a more dangerous and desolate planet, from the one on which civilization developed, a planet without Arctic sea ice, with crumbling ice sheets that ensure sea level catastrophes for our children and grandchildren, with shifting climate zones that cause great hardship for the world’s poor and drive countless species to extinction, and with intensified hydrologic extremes that cause increased drought and wildfires but also stronger rain, floods, and storms.”

Hansen’s argument about coal implicated in up to 80 percent of carbon emissions is based on the fact that the amount of remaining coal is much larger than the amount of remaining oil and gas: “sufficient enough to take global warming close to, if not into, the realm of dangerous climate effects.”

The first centralized coal-fired plant in the U.S. was built 105 years ago by Thomas Edison in New York. Here we are today with more than 584 coal ash storage sites in the U.S., many of which are situated in and around low-income communities that have to deal with toxic waters and air. Soot particles cause cancer.

In 2006, 1.16 billion tons of coal were mined here for mainly electricity generation. The more than 100 million gallons of coal preparation pools and larger coal ash (including toxins like arsenic and lead) sludge impounding pools do more than burst at their earthen dam seams and cause unsightly damage.

The largest single pollution event the U.S. has seen occurred two years ago, on the Emory River and other tributaries when 1 billion gallons of coal ash sludge rampaged into watersheds used by human and aquatic, avian and terrestrial life.

Companies directing this energy source are running rampant when we should have been putting two Apollo Programs and three Marshall Plans worth of energy and commitment into new clean energy. Even for this over-mythologized “clean” energy Washington State more than a third of Puget Sound Electric’s and 20 percent of Avista’s energy come from coal.

While Trans-Alta’s boilers were designed with a 30- or 40-year lifespan, the Centralia ones and many in the U.S. have surpassed the 70-year mark. Coal is feeling the pinch domestically, so the next big push is to outsource/off-shore it to China and Asia. Talk of retrofitting coal boilers to natural gas is possibly a lot of hot air.

Trainload after trainload of Powder River Basin coal is being planned. The dirty coal from Wyoming and Montana will head to China and India where both countries intend to prodiuce in new coal-fired output more than a total of 180 gigawatt powerby 2015, half of this country’s total current coal output.

The U.S. coal cartel-industry spent $40 million in 2006 to propagandize the lie of clean coal.

There are more than 600 coal-fired electricity plants worldwide, and China and India want to bring online as many dirty coal generating plants as possible: hundreds more in the coming decade.

The Sierra Club and citizens wonder what 45 trainloads of coal, with 120 tons per car connected in one 125-car train, daily, will do to communities like Spokane which will see increases in air pollution from diesel and coal dust billowing from the open train cars.

Some estimates say each car could lose 500 pounds of coal (in the form of fine dust) every one-way trip.

Maybe Einstein’s axioms would do us good today in regard to coal and nuclear energy:

• A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.

• We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.

• A question that sometimes drives me crazy: am I or are the others crazy?

• Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius - and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

• Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Brian Angliss, an electrical engineer, looked at how much the U.S. outsourced CO2 in the Bush administration –“because of the exploding trade deficit during the Bush Presidency, the U.S. outsourced CO2 emissions growth of more than 700 million metric tons compared to reported growth of some 200 million metric tons.”

As Annie Leonard (of ‘The Story of Stuff’ fame) says, our consumer economy not only puts money into any company operating in China that stamps “Made in China” on the product, but the U.S. economy – consumers – is responsible for the carbon emitted in the “creation” of every product outside the U.S. that we either consume or trade vis-a-vis U.S. owned corporations.

The U.S. is high compared to other countries in terms of carbon intensity. China contributes the most CO2 to U.S. carbon emissions.

James Hansen sees coal plants as the death nail in the global climate’s coffin.

“If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains — no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”

Nothing short of bulldozing ALL coal-fired plants that have no carbon capture systems worldwide in the next decade is Hansen’s bitter pill.

More research shows the role of the United States in climate disruption is bigger than most want to admit. We outsourced over a billion metric tons of CO2 to the rest of the world in 2006, mostly through coal-fired electricity generation for industrial and factory purposes.

It goes back to one dirty plant at a time we have to deal with – that mercury plume out of the Lewis County Tran-Alta plant trails into western Oregon and makes it to the Cascades, into that wonderful wind stream, hitting Puget Sound with mercury and 65 other lovely toxins.


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