Monday, September 7, 2015

"Clean Coal" - This Hydra Needs to Die

Presidential Candidates Promote Damaging Energy Source

In Greek mythology, the Hydra is a creature that belches poison gas and sprays caustic blood when injured. And, every time you try to kill it by chopping off the head, two more heads grow to replace the lost one.

According to one description, "this monster was so poisonous that she killed men with her breath, and if anyone passed by when she was sleeping, he breathed her tracks and died in greatest torment."

Hydra: Digital image courtesy of the Getty's Open Content Program

"Clean coal" reminds me of the Hydra.  Just when you think it has been slain in favor of better technology, the ugly head of  "clean coal" resurfaces and seems to multiply.  Clean or not, coal breathes noxious gas into the atmosphere and bleeds poisonous materials like mercury.

I'm not the first to see this analogy.  Mat McDermott discussed the clean coal hydra in 2008 here.  I'm sure others have too.

"Clean coal" is a mirage created by a coal industry desperate to revive an energy source that has no role in a climate challenged world.  Despite billions spent chasing the technology, it remains elusive, unproven and unreliable, while giving some a false hope that coal can be cleaned and the carbon emissions captured and stored or neutralized.  The reality is that "clean coal" is a distraction from the truly clean technologies that must be deployed to address climate change.

The latest "clean coal" hydra-head emerged from Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.  In response to questions about climate change, she has delighted climate deniers by dodging the issue and saying there are dozens of priorities more important than thinking about climate.  She is quick to promote "clean coal" and trash other technologies like wind and solar. "To say we’re basically going to outlaw coal, which is what this administration is doing, is so self-defeating. It destroys jobs, communities," Fiorina said in an interview with Katie Couric. She worries that China is going to get ahead of us in pursuing clean coal unless we start pushing clean coal technologies.

"Carly Fiorina (13045502775)" by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America
Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

"Clean coal" isn't a new concept for Fiorina. In her failed California Senate race in 2010, she said, "We also need to use every source of energy we have, including nuclear power and natural gas to reduce our dependence on oil from other countries. At the same time, we need to build on advancements in technology that make clean coal more affordable and more realistic." (source here)

What is new for her is a series of mis-informed attacks and outright lies about clean energy such as solar and wind (see detail from David Roberts on Vox here). She says she is uncomfortable with solar because of the huge amounts of water it consumes and wind due to bird kills. (Never mind that solar panels use no water and wind technology has advanced to the point where cell phone and radio towers are 10 times more dangerous for birds.)

Ad in Wall Street Journal May 9, 1979

Fiorina isn't the only candidate promoting coal, "clean" or otherwise.

Candidate John Kasich says of coal: "we are going to dig it, we are going to clean it, and we are going to burn it in Ohio, and we are not going to apologize for it." (source here)

"Obama’s war on coal is killing American jobs, making us more energy dependent on our enemies & creating a great business disadvantage" says Donald Trump (source here)

"Donald Trump Laconia Rally, Laconia, NH 4 by Michael Vadon July 16 2015 19"
by Michael Vadon - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons 

“When it comes to coal, there is no industry in this country that has been more of a target of an outright assault from the federal government than has the coal industry" said Ted Cruz in Wyoming (source here)

"God blessed America with abundant coal, oil and natural gas. Let's open up more federal lands for safe and responsible exploration." said Marco Rubio in Iowa (source here)

Coal Plant; Source: USGS

"... we should utilize our existing coal reserves cleanly, both through our existing plants and through the development of new cleaner coal technologies," says Bobby Jindal in a report on energy (source here).

Jeb Bush recently met with CEOs of coal companies (source here) and got a financial boost from "King Coal" (source here)

Scott Walker "has not made climate change a focus of his campaign, but he has spoken at the Heartland Institute, a group that denies man-made climate change. Walker also joined more than a dozen other coal-reliant states suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block the so-called Clean Power Plan" (source here)

Like the mythical beast, the modern "clean coal" Hydra threatens the world with fumes and poison.  In mythology, a giant crab defended Hydra.  Today, it is a group of misguided politicians helping a desperate coal industry survive.  In mythology, it took the cleverness of Hercules to slay the Hydra. Today, it will be the ingenuity of the renewable energy industry that slays coal through cost savings, environmental benefits and technology that works.

Hercules slaying Hydra; Beham 1545;  ©Trustees of the British Museum

Addendum .... Despite the seriousness of climate change and the threats from continued use of coal, it is possible to maintain some humor, as evidenced in this clean coal "ad" produced by the Coen Brothers in 2009:

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