How to Cut Carbon Emissions and Not the Economy

Photo Credit – Pioneer Press: Jean Pieri

President Obama has directed the EPA to issue new rules to the 600 coal burning power plants in the United States. This fiat move under the Clean Air Act is intended to reduce carbon emissions 30% and allow the U.S. to meet United Nations negotiated carbon emissions from 2009.

Needless to say, coal states have cried foul and the Chamber of Commerce says this will negatively impact our economy to the tune of $50 billion per year.

Keep in mind that the U.S. has already reduced carbon emissions from the 2005 benchmark of 6 billion metric tons of CO2 to 5.29 billion metric tons of CO2 in 2012 (source: USDOE), mostly through the switch to cheap natural gas.

I want clean air and clean water for me and my children as much as anyone.

Coal is a dirty fuel source. It creates pollution during mining, pollution during transport, pollution during the energy production, and pollution in the waste storage.

Coal is the number one source of toxic mercury pollution. Mercury is an acute neurotoxin that builds up in the environment and builds up in your body over time. Coal is also a major source of sulfur dioxide pollution.

But is this the right move? Are we focusing on the right issues? Is carbon a greater threat to my children’s health or is mercury and sulfur?

Toxic Pollution

I care more about the immediate effects of toxic pollution like mercury and sulfur, more than the debatable topic of carbon pollution.

Shockingly, nearly 30% of coal power plants have no controls for toxic air pollution which we can quickly fix in a way that is economically sound. The coal power plant pollution chain can readily be cleaned up.

For example, Constellation Energy has a very large, 1,300 megawatt coal power plant just outside Baltimore called the Brandon Shores plant. They quickly built a scrubber to meet new Maryland rules, breaking ground in June 2007 and completing the work in September, 2009. There were up to 1,385 construction workers building this upgrade, at a cost $875 million, and the power plant remains profitable.

The scrubber – a large chemical plant next to the plant – cuts 95 percent of the sulfur dioxide and 90 percent of the mercury. 

So why did the President leave out cleaning up toxic pollution? Why not talk about carbon capture and storage (CCS) or geothermal power?

Sadly, neither is likely to get the attention they deserve in this heated debate.

Carbon Capture and Storage

CCS is, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), “where carbon dioxide is captured at its source (e.g., power plants, industrial processes) and subsequently stored in non-atmospheric reservoirs (e.g., depleted oil and gas reservoirs, unmineable coal seams, deep saline formations, deep ocean).”

There are numerous CCS projects in the works, but it has been a secondary approach to carbon emissions. A properly functioning CCS power plant produces fewer carbon emissions than even a natural gas plant. Should this technology mature, retrofits to existing coal plants would become viable.

Geothermal Energy

The holy grail of reducing any energy production pollution that has been in use, and widely ignored, for over 50 years is geothermal energy.

Geothermal, simply put, uses the heat in the earth a couple of kilometers down (shallower than some oil wells) to heat water, which makes steam, which turns turbines, producing electricity. Take a look HERE for a video and description.

Any environmentalist who actually cares about what they claim, should be pushing geothermal far before wind or solar. Made in the USA, reliable (even more than a coal plant), doesn’t require any exotic materials or technology, and produces little to no pollution, geothermal is really the greatest answer to our energy needs.

Why isn’t the President talking about geothermal? Money. Too many of his donors have vested interests in the false promise of solar and wind technologies (which are perfectly fine for off-grid uses). There simply isn’t enough money to be made by his donors producing reliable, clean geothermal power.

If this administration or those in the environmental movement really want to reduce emissions of any pollutants, they need to look at how the economy will function in a manner that supports many aspects of our country and actually admit what is the truth in their goals.

Let me know your thoughts