Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This news story originally provided by The Herald Dispatch

March 18, 2005

Clean coal doesnt do much to protect environment

By ABRAHAM T. MWAURA and J. SCOTT STRAIGHT

Talk of "clean coal" focuses only on reducing some pollutants released into the air when we burn coal for electricity. Such talk completely ignores massively destructive coal extraction techniques. Mountaintop removal is not "clean."

The Herald-Dispatch recently carried a news article about carbon sequestration, which could theoretically help reduce global warming. Depending on carbon sequestration is akin to burying toxic waste, with the attitude that we will worry about it later, instead of actually fixing the problem.

Research in this area is already gobbling loads of taxpayer money, but any realistic uses -- if there are any -- remain decades away. Meanwhile, scientists are telling us that the need to curb greenhouse gases now is urgent.

Temperate forests can sequester 0.6 to 1.8 tons of carbon per acre per year. According to the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) on mountaintop removal/valley fill coal mining, present and estimated future forest losses to this mining technique will total as much as 1.4 million acres. Thats 2,200 square miles, or 6.8 percent of Appalachian forests.

How paradoxical and sad that the government is willing to spend billions on underground carbon sequestration on one hand, yet also ignore and relax environmental laws so more mountaintop removal can destroy more forests.

Consider that mountaintop removal-mined coal provides only five to seven percent of the nations coal burned for electricity, and with currently available energy efficiency techniques and conservation measures, we could cut the nations energy usage by 20 to 30 percent.

By allowing mountaintop removal, which helps create the global warming problem in the first place, we needlessly destroy huge tracts of carbon-dioxide sequestering forest.

The same faulty logic is used in promoting Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle as "clean" coal. While air emissions may be improved, there are still dirty coal extraction techniques. After combustion, theres still toxic ash, and there are no federal laws governing their disposal.

This method is being touted as a potential source of raw material to take us into the hydrogen era. But, as long as the source of the hydrogen is from fossil fuels, we are still stuck in an archaic energy era, instead of looking to the future with an eye on true alternative energy sources.

Renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro, solar and some biofuels already exist and promise lesser environmental impacts.

These energy sources also do not have the extreme extraction practices like mountaintop removal, which according to the DEIS exacerbates flooding, pollutes streams and groundwater, reduces forests to rubble and is devastating the most economically distressed communities in our society.

Full funding for more research into these energy sources has been thwarted by the fossil fuel companies that have a near monopoly in the energy industry and have a vested interest in preserving the status quo.

Carbon sequestration and coal gasification cannot answer the full range of problems associated with fossil fuels.

Most of the problems associated with fossil fuels are problems that deal with the effects that the extraction process has on communities. The major problems such as toxic sludge ponds, worsened flooding and blasting damage to property are ignored by these "new" technologies.

Until we shift our focus and resources toward actual alternative, renewable energies, our communities will continue to be terrorized by corporations whose loyalties are to their shareholders and not the people that they claim to serve.

Next time you hear the words "clean coal," think about what a myth that phrase is.

Abraham T. Mwaura and J. Scott Straight are community organizers for the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition. Contact them at P.O. Box 6753 Huntington, WV 25773 or call (304) 522-0246.
 

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