Thursday, February 5, 2009

Obama Unwilling to Dump Coal

Last week President Obama unveiled his new energy bill, boasting 5 million new green collar jobs, a cap and trade emissions system, commitment to renewable energy, and of course “clean coal technology.” The Obama administration, staying true to his campaign promises, is moving America into a new energy future, but unfortunately, just as he promised in his campaign, he is not willing to leave coal in the past.

The corner stone of the Obama stance on “clean coal” is carbon sequestration; claiming that eventually we can achieve “zero admission” coal firing power plants with the development of this technology. Carbon sequestration is long-term storage of carbon dioxide from power plants underground or in the ocean rather than releasing it into the air. The only problem is the sequestration of carbon itself. Aside from the fact that using it with current coal plants will increase the fuel needs for those plants by 25-40%, thus off-setting a good portion of the initially reduced emissions, the actual storage of the carbon is a tricky and potentially unsafe way of dealing with CO2. Too little is known about the potential long term effects of storing the large amounts of emissions that are created by plants everyday. It’s a great idea until one day all of that carbon begins to leak, or until it contaminates our ground water, or until it begins to raise the acidicity of our oceans. It seems that the more logical solution is not how to we contain the carbon we emit, but how to reduce it. Why not transfer all the time, energy, and money we are going to spend to attempt to safely pump pollution into the earth, and use it to develop safe, renewable energy? Energy that we can use without our grandchildren having to worry about what to do with all this CO2 suddenly leaking out from underneath them.

Of course, President Obama has more people to please then the environmentalists. His home state of Illinois is a big player in the coal industry, and he, I’m sure, has a sense of obligation to his former constituency and the coal industry; obligations he fervently fulfilled during his time as an Illinois senator by voting against cap and trade policies and for coal liquefaction.

Fortunately though, Obama is a marked improvement from his predecessor. After just riding ourselves of a president with one of the worst environmental records in history, having a new administrations who has as one of it’s first orders of business to put forth a plan that does, in fact, create 5 million new green collar jobs and has a strong commitment to renewables, is a definite breath of fresh air. Hopefully we’ll come to a point when we can finally leave coal behind, but until we get a president that is willing to take the political risk of dumping coal, it seems that we have to be content with what we now have; forward movement.

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