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Clean Coal – Oxymoron

the aftermath of a retention pond wall collapse at the Tennessee Valley Authorities Kingston Fossil Plant, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 in Harriman, Tenn.

the aftermath of a retention pond wall collapse at the Tennessee Valley Authorities Kingston Fossil Plant, Monday, Dec. 22, 2008 in Harriman, Tenn.

Aaaahhhaaaaa! We all knew it! Everytime we saw that blissful clean coal commercial.
The cute little fuzzy chunk of coal, stuffed with an extention cord for a tail. That
small voice in your solarplex saying, “Please remember that everything you watch on TV is not necessarily true”. Silly humans, we are always ignoring that amazing inner voice. Sure enough, here’s an article that answers the question about clean coal…

Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power
Source: Bryan Walsh/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.

More than two weeks after the spill, they are still trying to clear the estimated
5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash. The breach “is an environmental catastrophe
that reveals not only the dangers of burning coal and mismanaging coal combustion
waste, but also the need for federal regulation,” said Steven Smith, executive
director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, at a Senate hearing on the spill
on Jan. 8.

Coal remains a highly polluting source of electricity that has serious impacts on
human health. A report last year by the EPA found that coal ash, a solid byproduct
of burned coal, 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. A 2006 report by the National Research Council had similar
findings. “This is hazardous waste, and it should be classified as such,” says Thomas
Burke, an environmental risk expert at Johns Hopkins University who has studied the
health effects of coal ash.

But the ash isn’t currently classified as hazardous waste. Though the EPA in the past
has come close to imposing stricter rules on the treatment of coal ash, the agency has
repeatedly backed down in the face of opposition from utilities and the coal industry.
As a result, hundreds of coal plants around the U.S. are allowed to dump their leftover
sludge in unlined wet ponds. Not only does that raise the risk of accidents like the
Kingston spill, but the toxins in the ash could seep into the soil or groundwater,
contaminating drinking water supplies. Environmentalists would prefer federal
regulations that require ash to be buried in lined landfills that would prevent
leakage. “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. “For all the money the
industry has spent to mislead the public, [Kingston] shows that there really is no
such thing as clean and cheap coal in the U.S,” says Bruce Nilles, the director of
the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign.

That’s not entirely true. As we grapple with global warming, coal can be cheap or
it can be (somewhat) clean. But the sea of ash in Tennessee shows it can’t be both,
and that’s a reality we need to face as we plot America’s energy future.


I say we just completely take coal out of the environmentally clean, safe, sustainable,
future fuel equation. There’s a score of other possibilities that warrants our time,
money, and research resources.

What do you think?

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No Responses to “Clean Coal – Oxymoron”

  1. choopixie Says:

    Linda, this is a great site!

    choopixies last blog post..Maple Syrup: A Victim of Climate Change

  2. My Journey Says:

    hi friend! nice blog U got here..would U mind if we xlinks? pls let me know..thx 🙂

    My Journeys last blog post..Beautifying Your Appearance

  3. Prabakaran Says:

    hey nice post…
    have a nice day!!!

    Prabakarans last blog post..Interesting Thought about Life

  4. JeD Chan Says:

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    JeD Chans last blog post..The Lucky Number 2

  5. Richard Perkins Says:

    Great post: thoughtful and well written. I’m with you. The only “clean” option for coal would be to leave it in the ground. Although that does present challenges for getting affordable electricity to all the people who want it.

    Coal was the planet’s original carbon sequestration scheme. At the beginning of the carboniferous period (about 350 million years ago) there was so much CO2 in the atmosphere and so little oxygen, it couldn’t support much animal or even bacterial life. Tropical swampland plants ruled the day. The plants took the carbon in the CO2, released the oxygen, and left behind a thick bed of carbon rich plant matter as they died. But without bacteria or other mechanisms to break down the plant matter it didn’t decay. It was compressed and heated as it sank below the swamps: today we call that compressed layer coal.

    Now that we are burning that coal and re-releasing all that stored carbon into the atmoshphere, we’re reversing the trend. It took the carboniferous swamps about 50 million years to bring CO2 concentrations down to modern levels and kick-start the development of oxygen dependent life forms, like bacteria and animals. Given the exponential growth in population and electrification and the affordability of unregulated coal power, how long do you think it will take humans to put all that carbon back into the air?

    The only clean coal is buried coal.

    Richard Perkinss last blog post..Two steps forward… two steps back

  6. wilson Says:

    Linda, every time I read this word, “Oxymoron” it will remind me of the “Oxygen” plus “moron”, which it’s quite ridiculous to me lol

    Despite of that, I thought that this clean coal is a very good concept indeed!

    wilsons last blog post..Remember Not to Over Do it!

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