Posts tagged with: coal

Here’s a brief report from The Environmental Report on mountain-top removal mining, and the increasing involvement of religious groups weighing in on the question. One of these groups is Christians for the Mountains. A quote by the group’s co-founder Allen Johnson was noteworthy, “We cannot destroy God’s creation in order to have a temporal economy.”

One other thing that struck me about the interview is that the AmeriCorp involvement smacks of “rebranding” secular environmentalism. Add the magic words “creation care” and all of a sudden you’ve gained the moral authority of all kinds of Christians and churches.

The report from Sandra Sleight-Brennan is quite short, and even though it doesn’t find anyone to speak up for the mining companies, the workers, or the mining methods, it does manage to get a quote from “creation care” advocate Richard Cizik (formerly of the NAE).

And what are the economic options beyond mountain-top removal mining for these communities? They include “wind energy, tourism, and not letting the mining companies decide the fate of the Appalachian mountains and the people who live there.”

As the report makes clear, though, the issue is a complicated one, and a simple juxtaposition of “economy” versus “environment” isn’t sufficient to tease out all the answers. There are legitimate concerns on the one side regarding negative externalities like pollution of habitat and waterways as well as what might be called a kind of aesthetic pollution. But on the other are legitimate concerns about property rights (which include responsibilities for negative externalities), energy needs, and economic freedom.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Wednesday, February 27, 2008

As I said in 2006:

Without too much exaggeration, you could say that today’s electric cars are really coal-powered. If you look at the sources of electricity in the US, “coal provides over half of the electricity flowing into American homes.” That means that in one ideal world of the alternative fuel crowd, when you plug your car in, you’re plugging it in to a coal plant (this is also why the idea of consumer carbon credits is catching on). The energy and environmental issues in the world are about far more than “gas guzzling” SUVs.

Now from USAToday, “Plug-in cars could actually increase air pollution.”

See also (from 2006): “Plug-In Hybrids Are Not So Green.”

One more note related to the week’s reflections on energy and the environment. This brief piece from Marketplace highlights coal’s newfound popularity, “Coal makes a comeback” (here’s an in-depth and more technical piece from the NYT. HT: Instapundit).

Marketplace reporter Jeremy Hobson notes the need for coal to be integrated into an energy policy oriented toward independence: “The U.S. has more coal than any other country. $27 billion worth is mined every year. That’s why everyone, from unions to politicians to scientists, is getting on the coal bandwagon.”

Some scientists are arguing that the negative environmental impact of coal-burning power plants can be significantly mitigated by the advent of new cleaning technologies, presumably including the use of “scrubbers” which divert CO2 emissions from smoke stacks.

Many of these technologies, such as scrubbers, are focused on limiting the input of GHGs into the atmosphere. But there is a shift that is beginning to focus much more on sequestration and removal of GHGs. That is, there are two elements to consider: how much CO2 or other GHGs are put into the atmosphere and how quickly they are taken out, through both natural and artificial means.

Robert O. Mendelsohn, of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, made this point in his comments at the Copenhagen Consensus of 2004. He writes, “Although the bulk of carbon emissions in the future come from burning fossil fuels, policy makers should consider more than just energy policies to reduce carbon emissions. Another important policy option is to include carbon sequestration in forests. By growing timber trees longer and by setting aside vast tracts of marginal forestland for conservation, land use policies can sequester a large stock of carbon in living forests.”

Well-planned and properly planned reforestation is indeed an important part of that second element by sequestering CO2 from the atmosphere. But new technologies like carbon capture devices also will be an important feature of any attempts to manage the climate.

According to reports published last week (HT: Slashdot), Global Research Technologies, LLC (GRT) has announced the first successful “demonstration of a bold new technology to capture carbon from the air. The ‘air extraction’ prototype has successfully demonstrated that indeed carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured from the atmosphere. This is GRT’s first step toward a commercially viable air capture device.”

It’s an encouraging step to see that the media and politicians, but most especially commercial businesses, are beginning to pay attention to the possibilities for sequestration and GHG removal and not just focusing on consumption and emissions. There’s definitely going to be a commercial demand for carbon capture devices. Maybe someday we’ll all wear some sort of mask that mitigates the .3 tons per year of CO2 that a human being emits just by breathing.

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, December 7, 2006

Coal has long been a target of environmentalist anger. Soot, strip-mining, smokestacks—so many ugly features. Much of that opposition is overblown, of course (we’ve got to get energy from somewhere), but some of it has merit. This story from Ohio exhibits one of the genuine problems. The state’s taxpayers have to foot a $300 million bill for cleaning up the environmental messes coal companies have left. Some, but only a small part, of that is being paid for by corporate fees and taxes.

Free-market environmentalists, like the good folks at PERC, insist that these kinds of externalities can be accounted for in a properly constructed market, rather than relying on the very blunt and usually inequitable tool of government to take care of environmental fallout from industrial activitiy. I’m inclined to agree, but I wonder how such a market would work in this case. Maybe the source of the problem is the 1978 federal law cited by the article, which requires states to help companies repair damaged land—did this encourage irresponsible practices by coal producers?

The Wired.com blog Autopia passes along this NYT story outlining some of the fundamental challenges facing plug-in hybrid electric cars. The basic formula for the appeal of such hybrids is as follows: “The electric system runs mostly on coal, natural gas and uranium, all relatively plentiful. Cars run mostly on oil, oil and oil, which lately has been expensive. Wouldn’t it be nice to connect the two?” And as attractive an option as this might be, the NYT story writes that “despite the hopes of policy makers, engineers say there is no prospect of this happening in the near future.”

Coal Burning With Scrubbers

John Gartner is not so pessimistic about the short-term prospects for plug-in hybrids, and concludes, “The competition between the oil companies and electric companies will result in cleaner and more cost-efficient choices for consumers, and that we can all be happy about.”

But here’s the kicker for advocates of plug-in hybrids: The main source of electricity for the United States is fossil fuels, according to the DoE providing “nearly two-thirds of our electricity,” and more than half of that comes from coal. So it isn’t the case that moving from gasoline-powered engines to plug-in hybrids will move us away from the use of fossil fuels. It will, for the most part, simply shift the consumption from oil to coal.

That has some attractive national security implications, since “one quarter of the world’s coal reserves are found within the United States,” as opposed to our need to massively import foreign oil. It is on this basis that Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. argues, “It makes eminent sense to make as rapid a transition to those plug-in hybrids as we can.” This of course assumes that the withdrawal of international trade actually improves rather than worsens the prospects for international peace. Let’s leave that questionable assumption aside for now, which contradicts Bastiat’s observation, “When goods don’t cross borders, soldiers will.”

With respect to the “green-ness” of plug-in hybrids, their environmentally-friendly image belies the fact that such hybrids will to a large extent be running on the energy provided by coal. Until our nation’s electricity comes from renewable and alternative sources of energy, such as nuclear power, the environmental attractiveness of hybrids will remain illusory.

In a previous commentary examining some related aspects of these issues, I ask rhetorically, “Just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?” Well, if there were plug-in hybrid SUVs, they would to a great extent be coal-powered…and not so green as you might first think.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Friday, August 25, 2006

As I’ve written before, you don’t need to be a climate change convert to believe that nuclear power represents a very attractive alternative to nonrenewable fossil fuels.

In this lengthy piece in Cosmos magazine, Tim Dean examines the possibility of nuclear reactors based on thorium rather than uranium. Regardless of your position on climate change, and Dean certainly makes it a key point in his article, the essential reality is that “fossil fuels won’t last forever. Current predictions are that we may reach the point of peak production for oil and natural gas within the next decade – after which production levels will continually decline worldwide.”

Even if these predictions are much too cynical with respect to the fossil fuels left, the bottom line is that these are finite, nonrenewable resources. Dean talks about the conditions needed for an alternative energy source besides coal, which is the source of vast amounts of the world’s power: “It should offer abundant power. It also needs to be clean, safe and renewable as well as consistent. And ultimately, it needs to be economical.”

Again, as I’ve said before, “If the purpose of petroleum fuels is to pave the way for their own obsolescence, it’s becoming clearer day by day that this means the embrace of nuclear power.” You don’t have to agree with all of Dean’s analysis, I don’t think, to be intrigued by the possibility of thorium reactors.

Among the advantages of thorium as opposed to uranium: “Thorium is not fissile, so no matter how much thorium you pack together, it will not start splitting atoms and blow up. This is because it cannot undergo nuclear fission by itself and it cannot sustain a nuclear chain reaction once one starts. It’s a wannabe atom splitter incapable of taking the grand title.”

There are some complications, mostly drawing from the fact that thorium cannot self-sustain. As Dean writes, “The main stumbling block until now has been how to provide thorium fuel with enough neutrons to keep the reaction going, and do so in an efficient and economical way.” Dean goes on to describe two recent innovations that have the potential of addressing this stumbling block.

“Can atomic power be green?” asks Dean. Another way of asking the question is whether folks like Greenpeace will embrace nuclear power if the primary fuel is thorium rather than uranium.

Update: Deroy Murdock passes along wonderment regarding the question “why environmentalists reject alternatives to fossil fuels if they agree with Sir David King, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s science adviser, that global warming is ‘the greatest threat facing mankind’ and is ‘worse than terrorism.’”

In this week’s commentary, “Transcendence and Obsolescence: The Responsible Stewardship of Oil,” I ask the question: “Why did God create oil?” I raise the question within the context of debates about global warming and the burning of fossil fuels, including Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth and the work of the Evangelical Climate Initiative.

I argue that nonrenewable resources, especially fossil fuels, “have the created purpose of providing relatively cheap and pervasive sources of energy. These limited and finite resources help raise the standard of living and economic situation of societies to the point where technological research is capable of finding even cheaper, more efficient, renewable, and cleaner sources of energy.” Nuclear power is one source that meets these criteria. The NRO blog Reconcilable Differences passes along this NYT magazine story about the potentially bleak future for nuclear power in America, “Atomic Balm?”

The point about nuclear energy is important because the burning of coal accounts for over half of the domestic use of electricity, and that high-profile campaigns like “What Would Jesus Drive?” paper over this key fact. I wonder “just how many coal-powered SUVs have you seen lately?”

Well, it turns out that there is technology that allows us to turn coal into oil, although it is costly and potentially ineffecient. Even so, the high costs of oil are currently turning this into a more feasible economic possibility. For more on this, see this NYT story, “Mining for Diesel Fuel; The Search for New Oil Sources Leads to Processed Coal” (TimesSelect required).

Read the entire commentary here.