Black and Green: Strange Bedfellows

Most environmentalists have a knee-jerk wretching reaction to coal. In a word, coal is “dirty”. Uncontrolled, burning coal results in about twice the carbon emissions as burning natural gas — not to mention all of the other nasties (sulfur dioxide, NOx, particulates, mercury, etc.).

So imagine my surprise when I met the other day with Kurt Waltzer, a consultant who works for the Ohio Environmental Council, who showed me a report on how coal was basically the ONLY answer for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

The OEC recently completed a study entitled the Ohio Climate Road Map, which paints a detailed picture of how Ohio could take actions in the coming decades to stabilize the climate. Buried in the report (page 18 to be exact) is an innocuous looking chart that shows alternative climate mitigation strategies for the electric sector. Closer examination reveals the punchline: if a significant reduction in CO2 emissions from powerplants is truly required, the other emission reduction strategies often touted by environmentalists — efficiency, cogen, renewables — ain’t gonna get us there on their own. To achieve the required reductions, we need coal: gasified coal with sequestration.

In other meetings last week with coal interests, I am seeing evidence that coal supporters are beginning to get it: that the combination of improved technology AND tightened environmental stringency (along with the fact of depleting oil/gas resources) are strong tailwind forces at their back, and it may well be very advantageous for them to join the ride.

So coal may be moving towards environmentalism, and environmentalists may be moving towards coal. I’m reminded of the line from “Ghost Busters”: “Dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria!”

2 replies
  1. Pearl Street
    Pearl Street says:

    When the full value of coal is extracted (electricity, hydrocarbon products, ash and sulfur recycle into beneficial products, carbon dioxide recovery), all externalities (societal penalties) AND internalities (societal benefits)are accounted for, and the principles of industrial ecology are applied, mine-mouth coal facilities can look pretty attractive economically. An emerging externality that few are willing to quantify is national security, particularly in the context of massive imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) into this country). Pearl Street ( has done evaluations for clients, based on on our proprietary E-Equity methodology, that account for six dimensions of externalities and internalities: Environmental, National Security, Safety, Electricity Grid Impacts, Community Development, and Aesthetics. Mine-mouth coal facilities (coal-by-wire, coal to pipeline gas, etc) serve society well under these scenarios.

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous says:

    Caution: utilities are acknowledging (to the SEC) that they can't get enough coal out of the Powder River Basin in Wyoming to supply existing coal plants (due to constraints in our poorly maintained and busy railway system.) According to the Energy Information Administration, the spot price of Powder River Basin (PRB) coal is now more than twice what it was in 2004 (i.e. over $14 a ton compared to $6 a ton in 2004). In January 2006, the spot price for PRB coal was more than triple (i.e. over $20 a ton) what it was in 2004.

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