Coal production risks going up in smoke

Stephen Ontko

On the campaign trail, uncertainty has arisen concerning the Obama-Biden ticket’s position on clean coal use for energy production.

In a response to a question about whether he supported clean coal at a rally in Maumee, Ohio, Sen. Joe Biden gave almost as extreme an answer to coal production as one might expect from Al Gore, responding “We’re not supporting clean coal” and “No coal plants here in America.” He recommended that China build clean coal plants instead, as the Washington Post reported Sept. 24.

This was Biden’s attempt to seem more environmentally conscious by claiming our nation can run CO2 free using only renewable, alternative energy sources.

However, replacing coal entirely with wind and solar energy is completely unrealistic today, when about half of all electricity produced in the United States is from coal, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Biden not only threatens necessary energy production by eliminating coal, but he also threatens coal industry workers. According to The Blade, the sixth largest coal plant in the country is in Monroe, Mich., not too far from Maumee. As a stalwart of the middle class, perhaps Biden should tell all the workers in Monroe that their plant, along with modern American upgrades, should move to China and add to Michigan’s already abysmal unemployment numbers in the process. (Michigan has the highest unemployment rate of any state.)

Yet, when hard-core environmentalists aren’t confronting Biden, it’s easier for him to have a miraculous turnaround and promote clean coal along with wind and solar energy. Biden claimed that Sen. Barack Obama supports investing in clean coal during the vice presidential debate. The Associated Press reported Sept. 25 that Biden said he encouraged investment into clean coal in Pennsylvania.

The stance displayed on Obama’s Web site is supportive of clean coal, promising that his Department of Energy will develop “coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology.” If capturing carbon emissions to reduce greenhouse gases is the only justification the Obama team has for clean coal, Biden might have actually told the truth once during their entire campaign for this issue when he said America wouldn’t build clean coal plants. This is because of the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal wrote in an editorial on Sept. 25, that “to sequester just 25% of yearly U.S. CO2 emissions would mean moving volumes more than twice as large as the world’s current oil pipeline system can handle.” Basically, clean coal plants are not yet viable to reducing carbon emissions.

Yet, even if one really were concerned about reducing carbon emissions, then policies that force coal plants overseas is the absolute wrong approach for reducing overall carbon emissions despite the slow progress of clean coal. The Wall Street Journal, in another editorial Sept. 29, noted that a Duke Energy facility will replace an outdated one in North Carolina will decrease sulfur dioxide emissions by 80 percent a year and nitrogen oxide by 50 percent. According to the editorial, “The entire project is carbon neutral while producing more electricity.”

Thus, the democratic ticket offers wrongheaded policy prescriptions against so-called “global warming/climate change” doomsday that are anything but conclusive.

The Monroe coal-fired plant experienced similar upgrades. The Blade reported that certain upgrades will be “one of the region’s greatest lines of defense against smog.” The project manager for the upgrades said they will cut down on as much as 90 percent of the plant’s nitrogen-oxide emissions. Despite this project, democrats would still rather have the Monroe plant jobs outsourced to China.

Americans deserve no less than an honest answer as to an Obama administration’s specific stances concerning coal production for energy purposes. This is why, at the Republican National Convention, Gov. Sarah Palin spoke of how small town residents “prefer candidates who don’t talk about us one way in Scranton and another way in San Francisco.” Now, voters in Maumee and St. Louis are more suspicious as two different policy stories are being told of the same issue in the Obama camp.

Stephen Ontko is a senior economics major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].