Independent Democracy

Thought provoking commentary

There’s no such thing as “clean coal”

Don’t be deceived, there’s no such thing as ‘clean coal’
Cherise Udell
Salt Lake Tribune 5/4/08

Let’s be real: “Clean coal” is a marketing slogan not a technological reality. Coal does currently provide us with a reliable source of electricity but at an astronomical price that is hidden from us consumers.
Maybe you pay for it with your child’s asthma. Maybe you paid for it with your father’s heart attack or your grandmother’s stroke that took her speech away. Maybe you lost a baby to SIDS on a particularly bad air day.
Emissions from coal-fired power plants are a leading cause of smog, acid rain, global warming, air toxins – and premature deaths. The EPA estimates that over 30,000 Americans are dying prematurely each year due to emissions from power plants, the majority of which are coal-powered.
This doesn’t even address the high mortality rates associated with the mining process. Thus, coal kills more people annually than homicides (16,000 in 2000) or AIDS (14,000) and nearly as many as traffic accidents (42,000).

So when coal industry advocates like Joe Lucas, vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal, and Bountiful resident Bruce Taylor, co-owner of the proposed coal plant in Sevier County, say “cleaner coal,” what exactly do they mean?

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, a typical coal plant annually generates:

  • 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary human cause of global warming
  • 10,000 tons of sulfur dioxide (SO2)
  • 500 tons of small airborne particles, which can cause chronic bronchitis, aggravated asthma, and premature death
  • 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide (NOx), equal to what would be emitted by half a million late-model cars. NOx leads to formation of ozone (smog) which inflames the lungs
  • 720 tons of carbon monoxide (CO), which causes headaches and places additional stress on people with heart disease
  • 220 tons of hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (VOC), which form ozone
  • 170 pounds of mercury, an extremely potent neurotoxin; just 1/70th of a teaspoon deposited on a 25-acre lake can make the fish unsafe for human consumption. The Great Salt Lake is already heavily contaminated with mercury
  • 225 pounds of arsenic, which will cause cancer in one out of 100 people who regularly drink water containing 50 parts per billion
  • 114 pounds of lead, 4 pounds of cadmium, other toxic heavy metals, and trace amounts of uranium

None of these numbers sounds “clean” to me. So, does coal advocate Lucas consider a “clean” coal plant to produce only 7,000 pounds of annual sulfur dioxide emissions instead of 10,000 pounds? Does he consider 2 million tons of carbon dioxide instead of 3.7 million tons to be “clean” or how about 120 pounds of mercury instead of 170 pounds? Does “clean” coal only cause 20,000 premature deaths annually as compared to 30,000?

The reality is coal is dirty and will likely remain so.
If the American Coalition for Clean Coal is determined to funnel much-needed tax monies away from the development of real energy solutions that are sustainable and life-giving rather than life-taking, then I want to know exactly what is meant by clean.
Please do not try to manipulate me with deceptive advertising, green-washing or in this case, clean-washing.
Lucas and others in the energy sector must choose between investing in antiquated pulverized coal technology, desperately trying to make it “cleaner” or investing in innovative, renewable and truly clean energy technologies that will position the United States as a leader in the new global economy of the 21st century.
You can guess which choice will be better in the long run for our pocketbook, our economy and our health.
For more information about the high costs of coal check out:


May 4, 2008 - Posted by | Environment, Health, Newspaper, Utah

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