Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power
Here is an excerpt of an excellent article on clean-coal in Time magazine. After reading the article clean-coal sounds like an oxymoron. The coal industry is creating the same FUD (fear, uncertainity, doubt) tactics used by the tobacco and petroleum industries…
On the other hand I come from India which depends on coal for over 50% of its electricity production and is ramping that up to cope with chronic shortage of energy.
Nevertheless, I believe that safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives can be available if the real-cost of fossil fuels is factored in. It is a tragedy that economics taught in school and practiced in the world does not account for the environmental cost of the natural resources we consume. It is probably time for new economics, for now the check out the article from Time:
The “clean coal” campaign was always more PR than reality — currently there’s no economical way to capture and sequester carbon emissions from coal, and many experts doubt there ever will be. But now the idea of clean coal might be truly dead, buried beneath the 1.1 billion gallons of water mixed with toxic coal ash that on Dec. 22 burst through a dike next to the Kingston coal plant in the Tennessee Valley and blanketed several hundred acres of land, destroying nearby houses. The accident — which released 100 times more waste than the Exxon Valdez disaster — has polluted the waterways of Harriman, Tenn., with potentially dangerous levels of toxic metals like arsenic and mercury, and left much of the town uninhabitable…..
A draft report last year by EPA found that the ash contains significant levels of carcinogens, and that the concentration of arsenic in ash, should it contaminate drinking water, could increase cancer risks by several hundred times. “This is hazardous waste, and it should be classified as such,” says Thomas Burke, an environmental risk expert at Johns Hopkins University…
“You can’t talk about clean coal without dealing with this problem,” says Eric Schaeffer, the director of the Environmental Integrity Project, which just came out with a new report finding that there are nearly 100 other largely unregulated wet dumps like the Kingston facility across the U.S.
In reality, we can’t really talk about clean coal — it doesn’t exist. Though the coal industry is right to point out that it has improved filters on coal plants, sending less traditional pollutants like sulfur dioxide and mercury into the air, the toxic waste that remains behind is only growing. The biggest advantage of coal power has been cost — in most cases, it remains much cheaper than cleaner alternatives like wind, solar or natural gas. But the cheapness of coal depends on the fact that external costs — climate change, or the health impacts of air and water pollution from coal — remain external, paid for not by utilities or coal companies but society as a whole. The coal industry itself estimates that taking better care of fly ash could cost as much as $5 billion a year — and if the government imposed a tax or cap on carbon dioxide, the price of coal would certainly rise.