Black and Green: Strange Bedfellows

Most environmentalists have a knee-jerk wretching reaction to coal. In a word, coal is “dirty”. Uncontrolled, burning coal results in about twice the carbon emissions as burning natural gas — not to mention all of the other nasties (sulfur dioxide, NOx, particulates, mercury, etc.).

So imagine my surprise when I met the other day with Kurt Waltzer, a consultant who works for the Ohio Environmental Council, who showed me a report on how coal was basically the ONLY answer for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The OEC recently completed a study entitled the Ohio Climate Road Map, which paints a detailed picture of how Ohio could take actions in the coming decades to stabilize the climate. Buried in the report (page 18 to be exact) is an innocuous looking chart that shows alternative climate mitigation strategies for the electric sector. Closer examination reveals the punchline: if a significant reduction in CO2 emissions from powerplants is truly required, the other emission reduction strategies often touted by environmentalists — efficiency, cogen, renewables — ain’t gonna get us there on their own. To achieve the required reductions, we need coal: gasified coal with sequestration.

In other meetings last week with coal interests, I am seeing evidence that coal supporters are beginning to get it: that the combination of improved technology AND tightened environmental stringency (along with the fact of depleting oil/gas resources) are strong tailwind forces at their back, and it may well be very advantageous for them to join the ride.

So coal may be moving towards environmentalism, and environmentalists may be moving towards coal. I’m reminded of the line from “Ghost Busters”: “Dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria!”

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