Clean Coal: A Light In The Coming Energy Void

Shutterstock.com / Vyacheslav Svetlichnyy

Eliot Bakker Freelance Writer
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There have been few heroes in this utterly tiresome political silly season. We’re all sick of what Donald Trump is grabbing and what Hillary Clinton is deleting, where Gary Johnson is Aleppo-ing and that Jill Stein even exists.
For a few briefs moments at the end of second debate, though, it seemed that just such a hero might finally have arisen. His name was Ken Bone.
The pride and joy of Shiloh, Illinois, Ken pierced the inky blackness and brought a laser-like focus to one of the most important yet most consistently overlooked issues in this year’s presidential mêlée: clean coal. His question in the second debate, asking what the candidates planned to do to insure clean methods for meeting domestic energy consumption, elicited one of the best answers Trump pieced together any of his three encounters with Clinton.
The last eight years have been rough on America’s most venerable energy resource. Obama had scarcely taken the oath of office before his administration launched an all-out blitz against the American coal industry. Using regulations on carbon emissions as a convenient scourge, the administration has driven coal mines to close, forcing legions of blue-collar coal miners into unemployment. Roughly twenty percent of America’s coal workforce found themselves without jobs under the Obama regime – fifty thousand coal jobs were destroyed in his first term and another 33,300 in his second. Never one to miss a chance at compounding an error, Obama invested billions of tax dollars on solar and wind boondoggles. Although many of his political promises fell by the side of the road, his pledge to bankrupt coal companies is one that he has kept: Peabody Energy, which is the world’s largest energy company, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September, and Arch Coal preceded it to bankruptcy court in January of this year.
There’s little doubt a Hillary administration will be the horror show Trump promises for the coal sector. She has said as much herself, assuring coal miners and coal companies they have little to look forward to beyond becoming lambs slaughtered at the altar of environmentalism.
Obama’s scorched-earth policy has ignored several positive factors coal power brings to the table. Traditionally responsible for fully half of this country’s energy needs, the United States rests atop enough coal to power this country for another two-and-one-half centuries. Calling the US “the Saudi Arabia of coal” as he did during his first presidential run, Obama significantly understated the situation – the United States has more energy in coal than Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, and Russia combined have in oil reserves. Coal can be found in thirty-eight states, and a complex and highly-evolved distribution network allows it to be moved where it is needed quickly and efficiently.
Though the Trump train finds itself perilously close to derailing, focusing on the promise locked within clean coal and other fossil fuels seemed like it could have been the issue to put his campaign back on track. Examples of how such technology can be implemented abound. As Trump pointed out in a fleeting moment of clarity in the third debate, China and India are both enjoying economic growth at a much faster rate than we are: India’s “8% growth rate” (7.1%, to be technical) is being fueled in large part in coal energy, since wind and solar power simply can’t generate enough power to meet the massive needs of a country where 304 million people don’t have access to electricity. Instead of ignoring their coal reserves, our burgeoning economic rivals are mitigating emissions by utilizing scrubbers that filter out ash and soot. By developing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, they will be able to capture the emitted carbon dioxide and pumps it into vast underground storage reservoirs where it can be stored for timescales beyond those of human lifetimes.
Other projects proving the concept of clean coal are taking shape closer to home, including just north of the border at the Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan. SaskPower, the province’s lone energy provider, has taken China’s approach one step further – they are planning to capture one million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year to the petroleum company Cenovus Energy for it to utilize in extracting oil reserves that have remained locked away and inaccessible to conventional extraction means.
Examples of proven clean coal technology are not limited to foreign locales, either. Just last week the coal gasification plant in Kempner, Mississippi produced its first batch of electricity. Using synthetic natural gas converted from Mississippi lignite coal, this first success has been achieved largely without the massive federal funding solar and wind energy projects enjoy; the United States Department of Energy pitched in $245 million, but that’s barely a drop in the bucket of the $6.9 billion required to bring the project online.
For clean coal to be a reality, the US government must make a commitment to investing in the technology in the same way it has with other such industries. Increasing efficiency in coal-fired plants is among the most effective methods for reducing emissions across the board. According to the World Energy Council, for each percent gain in efficiency, a two-percent reduction in CO2, NOx, SO2, and particulate matter results. Once efficiency rates reach supercritical and ultra-supercritical levels, up to forty percent less carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere than traditional subcritical coal plants. The bang for the investment buck has been significant – the industry has invested $120 billion since 1990 to cut emissions, and the result to date has been a 55% decrease in NOx emissions, a 70% drop in sulfur dioxide output, and a 92% drop in PM10 emissions since 1970. While environmentalists keep disingenuously pushing the mantra that wind and solar are all this country need, an actual, practical solution to the emissions issue is staring us in the face.
Clean coal technology offers affordable, secure, and environmentally responsible energy production that will put Americans back to work. Yes, it requires a long-term financial commitment from Washington to bring it to fruition, but that is no more than the other “clean” energy industries have already gotten. Resuscitating the coal industry would also throw a badly-needed lifeline to this country’s hardest-hit communities; for their (and our) sake, we can scarcely afford not to explore this road.