As we listen to the various environmental policies that each presidential candidate has to offer, we hear numerous clean energy practices, such as wind-powered turbines, electric vehicles, solar power, and geothermal energy. There is another source of energy that is trying to be implemented, only this source is not as clean as it sounds.
Often we hear the term “clean coal” mixed in with a list of possible technologies that we could use to reduce global warming and help emancipate America from its foreign oil masters, but what do we really know about this “clean coal” technology? How clean is it?
Well, considering the fact that we have one of the largest coal deposits in the world, the idea that domestic coal could help us become independent of foreign oil is not faulty. However, the idea that this is a clean source of energy has been proven to be fallacious in that one of the major reasons we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil is not just that is it foreign, it is because it is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide. When burned to produce energy, coal produces 29 percent more carbon dioxide than oil does, according to Greenpeace International. This new idea that we now know how to eliminate the unfavorable elemental properties of coal is somewhat misleading in that yes, we can filter the sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and the particulate matter, but we have already been doing that. So how is this clean coal new?
There are two very important things that the coal industry has proven to be exceedingly difficult to filter, these being mercury and carbon dioxide. Because there is no available commercial filter for mercury, it is nearly impossible to control unless you reduce the amount of its source that is burned. Also the economic costs of filtering the carbon dioxide are so high that a large scale system has never been testable, and according to Greenpeace, carbon cleaning coal systems will not be performing appropriately until 2030-, 15 years after the date that environmental scientists have determined as the latest time to start decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, thus ultimately falling into the category of “things that could have potentially helped everybody but was eventually ended being too little too late.”
Many suggest that if the Reagan administration hadn’t hacked the environmentalists apart by cutting funds to alternative energy practices, we could have actually developed more effective CO2 filters; this technology could have been somewhat practical. Also, many environmentalists working for Greenpeace suggest that filtering these already disposed of pollutants only places them in a different waste stream and are now polluting a different space, decreasing the net gain in global health.
Instead of putting effort into clean coal, whose benefits will not take effect for 23 more years, we need to focus on the practical and truly clean technologies that we have now, such as wind and solar energy to power our lives. We do not have time to waste on the coal industry’s attempt to excavate itself from the rest of the fossil fuels.
Thompson is a sophomore environmental public health major and columnist for The Spectator. This column appears biweekly.