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Speak Now Against Bush’s Great Coal Giveaway

Jeff Biggers, Huffington Post
With our attention focused on the Wall Street crisis and the presidential election, the George W. Bush administration took an extraordinary step last Friday to give coal companies a couple of departing gifts before the end of this year.

This is the really dirty side of coal we rarely hear about.

Put aside, for a moment, that no presidential candidate can actually tell you when the 100-year-old slogan of “clean coal” can be implemented on a nationwide utility scale, or at what cost, or if the security is proven, and put aside the fact that over 10,000 coal miners have died from black lung disease in the last decade and thousands have been injured or died in accidents, and put side that millions of acres of fertile corn fields and farm land, virgin forests and waterways have been strip mined across the country.

Here’s the really dirty part of coal. First, this preface: After a year of record profits, coal operatives will receive nearly $2.8 billion in tax credits in the recent Wall Street bailout.

And last Friday, with all of the banter about “clean coal” drowning out the critics, the Bush administration quietly moved to alter one of the last remaining laws protecting against the wholesale clear-cutting and horrific strip mining practice called mountaintop removal in Appalachia. This is the process of blowing the tops off mountains and dumping the remains into the waterways or valleys — over 1,600 miles of streams and 470 mountains in central Appalachia have been erased from American maps.
(20 October 2008)

Government report criticizes U.S. plans for carbon dioxide burial

Peter Montague, Environmental Research Foundation via Gristmill
In the U.S. today we burn coal to make half of all our electricity. This coal emits about 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is 33 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions [XLS].[1] CO2 is the main culprit in the global warming problem. Rather than eliminate the problem by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), government and industry are proposing an end-of-pipe solution — they intend to solve the global warming crisis partly by capturing and storing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. The CO2 would be captured as a gas, pressurized until it turned into a liquid, transported by pipeline to a suitable location, and pumped a mile or so below ground, intending for it to stay there forever.

This is called CCS, short for carbon capture and storage, and it is the coal and electric power industry’s strategy for allowing the continued use of coal. If CCS never happens on a large scale, then the global-warming CO2 emissions from burning coal will eventually kill the coal industry.

… How far along are we toward actually burying CO2 in the ground? Last month the Government Accountability Office — the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress — released a report [PDF] that looks at the state of CCS in the U.S.

The GAO took a broad survey of government officials, scientists, nonprofits, and fossil company executives to find out just how far along CCS is in the U.S. and what needs to be done to help it expand.

They concluded that CCS faces serious technological, economic, legal, and regulatory barriers.

The GAO report says that CCS entails five steps: 1) Carbon capture and compression into liquid C02; 2) transport to a storage location; 3) injection and storage deep underground; 4) long term monitoring to verify that the CO2 stays put; 5) remedial measures in case leakage occurs.[3]

… In sum, the coal industry’s future depends upon rapid development of a large new CCS industry. If the goal is to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by something like 80 percent by 2030, just 22 years from now, then existing power plants — most of which would still be functional in 2030 — will need CCS to eliminate the bulk of their emissions, or they will need to be replaced by solar, wind and geothermal plants. The present slow pace of development of CCS for existing coal plants is probably keeping coal and electric utility executives awake at night. On the other hand, if CCS were deployed more rapidly and something went seriously wrong in an early demonstration, you could forget the grand- scale deployment of CCS that the coal and electric power industries are counting on.
(21 October 2008)

Excerpt: ‘Tar Sands’

Andrew Nikiforuk,
The world’s oil party is coming to a dramatic close, and Canada has adopted a new geodestiny: providing the United States with bitumen, a low-quality, high-cost substitute.

Northern Alberta’s bituminous sands, a national treasure, are the globe’s last great remaining oil field. This strategic boreal resource has attracted nearly 60 per cent of all global oil investments. Every major multinational and nationally owned oil company has staked a claim in the tar sands.

Neither Canada nor Alberta has a rational plan for the tar sands other than full-scale liquidation. Although the tar sands could fund Canada’s transition to a low-carbon economy, government has surrendered the fate of the resource to irrational global demands. At forecast rates of production, the richest deposits of bitumen will be exhausted in forty years.

Nations become what they produce. Bitumen, the new national staple, is redefining the character and destiny of Canada. Rapid development of the tar sands has created a foreign policy that favours the export of bitumen to the United States and lax immigration standards that champion the import of global bitumen workers.

… Bitumen is a signature of peak oil and a reminder, as every beer drinker knows, that the glass starts full and ends empty. Half of the world’s cheapest and cleanest oil has been consumed. The reality of depletion now demands the mining of the dirtiest. It takes the excavation of two tons of earth and sand to make one barrel of bitumen.
(21 October 2008)