Many environmentalists are actually pushing for so-called “clean” coal. Some of the arguments are valid. Along the valid lines of argument are statements that the existing plants will not be decommissioned in the foreseeable future and should at least be retrofitted with carbon sequestration technology.
This makes a lot of sense. These plants will be burning the coal anyway. If we put the CO2 underground, even if it leaks one day, it is better than the known damage from spewing it forth today. I would support such moves in conjunction with a plan to phase out the burning of coal completely.
Unfortunately, many environmentalists take a different tack. They state that the coal is there and it’s cheap. We’re going to burn it. At least this is a less damaging way to do so. Such advocates include some very respected high level environmentalists. I respectfully and strenuously disagree with such logic.
For one thing, the idea of pumping CO2 underground is not yet a proven technology. We have no idea what will happen in hundreds, thousands, or millions of years when geologic forces cause the gas to burp back into the atmosphere. On August 21, 1986, Lake Nyos in Africa suddenly emitted a large cloud of CO2, which suffocated 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby villages. The gas, at high concentrations, is lethal.
Second, and of far more immediate concern, the idea of increasing our use of coal and building new “clean coal” power plants ignores the issue of how to get the coal. Even traditional coal mining is damaging to the environment. See this page on the environmental impacts of coal and try to tick off how many of the issues are solved by pumping the CO<sub>2</sub> underground, even if it proves effective.
However, today, we have mountaintop removal.
Mountaintop removal is not as bad as it sounds. It’s far far worse. It often means literally and completely removing the mountain. We are losing long stretches of the Appalachian Mountains this way. The video below will give you some idea of the scale. Warning: This video is not for the faint of heart!
I hope you watched the video despite the warning. I feel it is important to know that this is going on when deciding whether or not to follow the link in that action alert in your inbox and send your congress people an email detailing why you oppose any new coal power plants. I hope that you will follow all such links and oppose new coal, even if you are skeptical about climate change, even if you care more for energy independence than you care for the long term sustainability of the human species on this planet.
I, for one, am glad to see anything slowing or putting a stop to the myth of clean coal.