Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Reviewing Energy and Obama's Plan: "Clean" Coal

Back in July, I posted on Obama's energy plan and why I couldn't vote for him because of it. Many of you (wisely) talked me down promising to get out there and support a GOOD energy plan.

We have 55 days or so before Obama finally (and none too soon for me!) takes office and I want to begin doing some posts on various kinds of energies. The first will be coal and so-called "clean" coal.

Approximately 52% of US energy comes from coal, of one type or another. In various places in the world, the level is much, much higher. In 2001, 900 million (900,000,000) tons were combusted in the US alone at approximately 35% efficiency. 1,026,454,000 (over a billion) tons were burned in 2006, same efficiency.

Coal and Global Warming

Global warming is directly related to the combustion (burning) of fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal) and the discharge of carbon into the atmosphere locked as CO, carbon monoxide, and CO2, carbon dioxide. CO2 is the more problematic culprit.

CO2 is the major greenhouse gas which traps heat in the lower atmosphere ultimately warming the planet, changing tides, melting polar ice sheets (and others), effecting rain/drought patterns, and, among other things, increasing storm intensity and frequency. Many believe that areas with cooling trends defy proof of global warming. Not so. Global warming causes overall warming, but some areas will become colder as weather patterns change. You can learn more about the carbon cycle here.

Coal is a notorious source of CO2 and many other air pollutants. In terms of carbon discharge, coal burning is the number one cause of air pollution in the United States. Coal is also the most available source of carbon for heating and energy, thus the dilemma.

Coal Burning and Human Health

There are literally volumes of material on the effects of coal burning and human health from combustion components from sulphur and arsenic to uranium, thorium and mercury (the major pathway of mercury is through fish consumption. Great, huh?). In some areas, outdoor air pollution is so high that it becomes a concern for "indoor" air pollution, especially in the eastern United States.

Interestingly, many of these reports contradict one another with the exception of the effects of mercury and particulate related respiratory problems.

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) issued the following statement in December of 2007 in regard to coal and mercury pollution (it is important to note that there is NO safe level of mercury):

Experts are becoming increasingly concerned that increased burning of coal-naturally contaminated with mercury-is leading to releases to the air in some parts of the world from where it can spread around the globe. [emphasis mine]

In the human body, mercury damages the central nervous system, thyroid, kidneys, lungs, immune system, eyes, gums, and skin

- Neurological damage done by mercury that has reached the brain cannot be reversed. There is no known safe exposure level for elemental mercury in humans, and effects can be seen even at very low levels.

Types of Coal and Its Uses

There are four major types of coal, each used for particular reasons in the creation of heat/energy. Here is another chart.

"Clean" Coal

There are many, many reasons coal can never be considered "clean" even if none was ever burned.

The photo above shows the process of mining coal via mountaintop removal. The process is simple. Blow the holy crap off the mountain, piece by piece using dynamite to expose the coal.

With it go wildlife (yes, blown up), forests (yep), the whole ball of wax.

But wait! There's more!

All the stuff not coal? Dumped into local streams, crushing and suffocating everything below it, and downstream, flooding entire communities. This is a must watch.

The number of mountains now destroyed is up from 450 to 470. And it will rise, as mountains fall. This is cultural, societal and environmental genocide, plain and simple.


Actions you can take today:

1. Contact the Obama transition office.
Go here.
  • Let them know that coal must not be part of their energy agenda.
  • Tell them that they must immediately stop mountaintop removal.
  • Let them know that you know there is no such thing as "clean" coal. Go here.
  • Support green energy and the 10 year plan to get off oil, gas and coal.
2. Help the folks in West Virginia with a simple phone call. BE an activist. Do it.
  • Read the problem here.
  • Then call West Virginia Governor Manchin (no matter WHERE you live, you are involved by the mere fact YOUR utility buys energy from a coal plant!). Tell him you oppose mountaintop removal and want him to do everything in his power to stop the permit for Coal River Mountain. Do it NOW: 1-888-438-2731. Please let us know what his office says.