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Just Say 'No!' to Coal

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There needs to be a call to action. Big Coal (like Peabody Energy Company aka Peabody Coal Company) is pushing hard to get us (via the government) to make massive investments in coal, and coal to liquid fuel legislation. The plan is to take our current estimated 250 year supply of coal and use it as a liquid fuel to replace imported oil. Imported oil makes up 60% of the oil used in the United States. This plan is so stupid on so many levels that it is difficult to know where to start.

Coal is being pushed as an "alternative" fuel. Oh please spare me. Coal is neither "clean," "green," or renewable. There is a big push to increase coal for electric generation as well. Even though the "scrubbing" technology for emissions have improved, more plants using more coal means more emissions - including CO2 emissions. Let us not forget that "energy" is not the only crisis facing us. There is the "little" issue of global warming. The New York Times (May 29, 2007) reproduced the nice graph comparing the greenhouse gas emissions o0f different fuel sources. It is instructive in this discussion:

As you can see from the graphic, even with carbon sequestration, the coal to liquid fuel production increases emissions. Without sequestration is increases emissions dramatically (119% according to the NY Times. Now the rub is that carbon sequestration is virtually an undeveloped technology. It involves capturing emissions and "putting" them somewhere other than the air. The most investigated suggestions are: on the seabed; underground; and in used up oil and gas wells. To the best of my knowledge, there is no commercially active sequestration projects on line yet. Therefore, we do not know whether this will even work - nor what the consequences are of doing it. Therefore, it is unlikely that these plants will start with their emissions being "sequestered." That will happen as a "retro-fit" sometime in the future.

The next dumb part of this is that if our current coal supply is estimated to last 250 years at existing use levels, what happens if we quadruple the use? Well, that 250 years just became 60 years (or less). Then what?

Dumb idea take three. Can we replace 60% of our current oil consumption with liquefied coal? That seems highly unlikely to me. I do not know how much usable liquid fuel one can get out of say a ton of coal, but it would seem to take one heck of a lot of coal to produce 12 million barrels of gasoline a day (we currently use approximately 20 million * 60% foreign oil = 12 mil.). That translates into roughly 505 million gallons of gasoline (from coal) a day (roughly 42 galls in a barrel). Now that is one heck of a production line, and my estimate of quadrupling coal use just shot up dramatically. Say maybe 10-15 years of coal in the U.S. instead of 250 years?

Dumb idea take 4. This is expensive and the plan is to subsidize research, development, and production. Subsidize means that our tax dollars will underwrite the cost of this little adventure while we may look at $4.00 per gallon pump prices as a real steal. This is a freaking bonanza to the "energy" industry, but it is not a bonanza for us, or the next generation, or for the planet.

Among those who have sponsored and promoted this legislation is Presidential candidate Barak Obama. I am sure he feels he is representing Illinois coal interests with this support. However, one might wonder whether Illinois is represented - much less the rest of us.

I do not see one positive thing in this plan, but it is being pushed and pushed hard. The goal is to have it passed and to Bush by early July (2007). If you want to express yourself to your legislators, then I recommend that you do so quickly.

Here is a link to get you to your Congress people and Senators - Contacting Congress

Resources for further information
CNN Money. 5/24/07. Lawmakers mull coal-to-liquid fuel plans

Edmund Andrews. NY Times. 5/29/07. Lawmakers Push for Big Subsidies for Coal Process

Senate Bill 154 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Energy Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. BUNNING (for himself, Mr. OBAMA, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. PRYOR, Ms. MURKOWSKI,

Senate Bill 155 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. BUNNING (for himself, Mr. OBAMA, Mr. LUGAR, Mr. PRYOR, Ms. MURKOWSKI,

House Bill 370 Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 (pdf)
Sponsors: Mr. DAVIS of Kentucky (for himself, Mr. RAHALL, Mr. WHITFIELD, Mr. PICKERING, Mr. ROGERS of Kentucky, Mr. DUNCAN, Mr. LAHOOD, Mr. BOUSTANY, Mrs. CUBIN, Mr. BACHUS, Mr. EVERETT, Mr. ROGERS of Alabama, Mr. BOUCHER, Mr. LINCOLN DAVIS of Tennessee, Mr. SHIMKUS, Mr. CANNON, Mrs. DRAKE, Mr. LEWIS of Kentucky, Mr. REHBERG, Mr. HASTERT, and Mr. YARMUTH)
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Rowan Wolf is an activist and sociologist living in Oregon. She is the founder and principle author of Uncommon Thought Journal, and Editor in Chief of Cyrano's Journal Today.

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