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Clean Coal to the Rescue By: Roy Innis
Washington Times | Thursday, December 13, 2007

We often hear that clean, free, inexhaustible renewable energy can replace the "dirty" fossil fuels that sustain our economy. A healthy dose of Energy Reality is needed.

More than half of our electricity comes from coal. Gas and nuclear generate 36 percent of our electricity. Barely 1 percent comes from wind and solar. Coal-generated power typically costs less per kilowatt-hour than alternatives — leaving families with more money for food, housing, transportation and health care.

By 2020, the United States will need 100,000 megawatts of new electricity according to forecasts from the Energy Information Administration, and industry and utility company analysts. Unreliable wind power simply cannot meet these demands.

Wind farms require subsidies and vast stretches of land. To meet New York City's electricity needs alone would require blanketing all of Connecticut with towering turbines, says Rockefeller University Professor Jesse Ausubel. They kill birds and must be backed up by expensive coal or gas power plants that mostly sit idle — but kick in whenever the wind dies down, so factories, schools, offices and homes don't shut down.

On a scale sufficient to meet the electricity needs of a modern society, wind power is just not sustainable.

For three decades, U.S. demand for natural gas has outpaced production. In fact, gas prices have tripled since 1998, to $13 per 1,000 cubic feet today, and every $1 increase costs U.S. consumers an additional $22 billion a year.

With Congress and states making more gas prospects off-limits every year, this trend is likely to continue — further driving up prices and forcing us to increasingly import expensive liquefied natural gas. We cannot afford to halt construction of new coal-fired power plants, though some are trying to.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. supported anti-coal initiatives in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. The scheme was intended to drive up the price of natural gas, and thus profits, by making coal less available and more expensive — with little regard for poor families.

Former Clinton administration environment staffer Katy McGinty engineered the lockup of 7 billion tons of low sulfur Utah coal, worth $1 trillion. Current and proposed regulations would make it even more difficult and expensive to provide adequate coal-fired electricity. But energy and pollution reality support more coal use, not less.

Power plants fueled by coal are far less polluting than 30 years ago. Just since 1998, their annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have declined another 28 percent and 43 percent respectively, according to air quality expert Joel Schwartz.

Coal-fired power plants are now the primary source of U.S. mercury emissions only because the major sources (incinerating wastes and processing ores containing mercury) have been eliminated. U.S. mercury emissions are now down 82 percent since the early 1980s, and new rules — and new rules will eliminate most remaining mercury and other emissions from power plants by 2015.

That leaves carbon dioxide and catastrophic climate change as rationales for opposing coal. The latest U.N.-IPCC report again reduces projections for future temperature increases, polar melting and sea level rise. Moreover, increasing scientific evidence suggests only slight warming, climate change controlled primarily by solar cycles, and no storm, drought or sea level trends that exceed historical experience.

Yet, claims about imminent catastrophes have become borderline hysterical, in the weeks preceding international climate talks in Bali.

The inconvenient truth is that these climate chaos horror stories are based almost entirely on computer models and digital disaster scenarios. They are no more real than the raptors in "Jurassic Park."

Nevertheless, politicians are promoting initiatives like the Lieberman-Warner bill and Midwestern Governors Association climate pact, which they say will prevent a cataclysm, by slashing CO2 emissions by 60 to 80 percent and generating "thousands of megawatts" from wind energy.

If these initiatives become law, experts say electricity rates would soar another 50 percent by 2012. Labor unions predict millions of lost jobs, as companies shift operations to foreign countries.

China and other rapidly developing countries will build 1,000 new coal plants during the next five years — with few of the pollution controls we require. That means even major sacrifices by American workers and families won't affect global temperatures, even if CO2 is the primary cause of global warming — which many scientists say is not the case.

We need every energy resource: oil, gas, coal, hydroelectric, nuclear — and wind, solar and geothermal.

We cannot replace 52 percent of our electricity (the coal-based portion) with technologies that now provide only 1 percent of that power (mainly wind). Wind is an energy supplement, not an alternative.

We cannot generate electricity with hot air from politicians eager to create tax breaks, subsidies and "renewable energy mandates" for companies that produce alternative energy technologies — in exchange for campaign contributions from those companies.

We cannot afford to trash the energy we have, and substitute energy that exists only in campaign speeches and legislative decrees. Doing so would leave a huge Energy Gap between what we need and what we have.

Poor and minority families can least afford such "energy policies."

This article is based on testimony he presented to a U.S. House of Representatives energy forum in December 2007.

Roy Innis is national chairman of the New York-based Congress of Racial Equality, one of America's oldest and most respected civil rights organizations.

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