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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Down To Earth

United States of Clean Coal

United States Of Clean Coal "Watching coal-miners at work, you realize momentarily what different universes people inhabit. Down there where coal is dug is a sort of world apart which one can quite easily go through life without ever hearing about. Probably the majority of people would even prefer not to hear about it. Yet it is the absolutely necessary counterpart of our world above." George Orwell from the essay "Down the mine." Orwell detailed the dirt and confusion of a coal mine in that essay, describing it as his own mental picture of what hell looks like. Remember "Zoolander"? Cough. Cough. Either way, there's no such thing as "clean coal." Period. It's the worst oxymoron since jumbo shrimp, and it's being touted as the next best thing as an energy source. Coal-fired power plants produce half the U.S. electricity supply, so it's necessity has lightened a bit since Orwell's 1937 essay but here's the real difference: In recent years, coal is the country's leading source in emissions of carbon dioxide according to a report last month by the Government Accountability Office. And now the coal industry has spent $40 million on advertising its potential cleanness, hiding some serious facts: Coal is the dirtiest source of energy, they claim it's abundant when coal resources will permanently decline in 20 years, and the inherent dangers of extraction. So how do you make coal become clean? Through a muddled method called "carbon capture and storage" or CCS. Greenpeace listed five reason carbon storage is useless: CCS cannot deliver in time to avoid dangerous climate change The earliest possibility for deployment of CCS at utility scale is not expected before 2030. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to start falling after 2015, just seven years away. CCS wastes energy The technology uses between 10 and 40% of the energy produced by a power station. Wide scale adoption of CCS is expected to erase the efficiency gains of the last 50 years, and increase resource consumption by one third. Storing carbon underground is risky Safe and permanent storage of CO2 cannot be guaranteed. Even very low leakage rates could undermine any climate mitigation efforts. CCS is expensive It could lead to a doubling of plant costs, and an electricity price increase of 21-91%. Money spent on CCS will divert investments away from sustainable solutions to climate change. CCS carries significant liability risks It poses a threat to health, ecosystems and the climate. It is unclear how severe these risks will be. A new report from Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund revealed China's dependence on coal to fuel its economy cost the country $248 billion last year in hidden expenses, including health care costs and environmental damage. (Important note: Thirteen coal miners die a day in China.) On an obviously smaller scale, a U.S. coal crusade would yield a similar contradiction: The Government's efforts to lower prices would prove way more costly. Coal states such as Colorado, Virginia, Pennsylvania have electoral votes that are pivotal to the outcome of the race, and the candidates---in true Joe-six-pack-Joe-the-plumber-Larry-the-cable-guy pandering and point, counterpoint---are heeding the calls of the coal industry and promising big business. But what's lost in the doublespeak is the real damage coal has done to Appalachia. An estimated 750,000 to 1 million acres of hardwood forests, a thousand miles of waterways and more than 470 mountains and their surrounding communities have been obliterated from the southeastern mountain range in the last two decades. Enough explosions equivalent of several Hiroshima atomic bombs are set off in Appalachia every year. Clean? Not so much. Give us real clean energy such as geothermal, solar, wind and hydroelectric and other renewables. Coal is not the answer.

Down To Earth

The DTE blog is committed to reporting and sharing environmental news and sustainability information from across the Inland Northwest.