West Virginia Blue:: Does “Clean Coal” make economic sense?

An excellent post by Clem Guttata over at West Virginia Blue. The short answer to the question is Hell No, coal aint economical and its tearing up our mountains, time to move on!

Does “Clean Coal” make economic sense?

by: Clem Guttata

Sun Dec 13, 2009 at 18:08:43 PM EST

By Clem GuttataI posted a version of this diary at DailyKos on Saturday morning. Thank you to everyone who engaged in a constructive dialogue on the topic there and on Facebook over the weekend.

If you’re not really sure what “Clean Coal” is, that’s easily forgiven. Clean Coal has meant a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Many decades ago, one enterprising company sold “clean coal” that burned with less smoke in your home heating furnace. Today, the term usually refers to carbon capture and storage (CCS) or coal-to-liquid fuel (CTL).

The Obama administration and leading figures in Congress are still pushing for tens of billions of dollars of investments in “cleaner coal.” With a pause in consideration on the energy and climate change legislation, it’s a good time to ask… just what we would we get in return for that investment?


For those who like to cut to the chase, here’s the short answer. Carbon capture and storage is risky and expensive. Coal to liquid only makes sense if you ignore carbon emissions or if expect we’ll lose access to foreign sources of oil. But, read on. There’s another major challenge you probably aren’t aware of.

As a starting point, read what James B. Meigs writes in Popular Mechanics, “The Myth of Clean Coal: Analysis”

Sadly, although it might make little economic or scientific sense, the political logic behind clean coal is overwhelming. Coal is mined in some politically potent states-Illinois, Montana, West Virginia, Wyoming-and the coal industry spends millions on lobbying. The end result of the debate is all too likely to resemble Congress’s corn-based ethanol mandates: legislation that employs appealing buzzwords to justify subsidies to a politically favored constituency-while actually worsening the problem it seeks to solve.

The Meigs piece is good at laying out the basics of carbon capture and storage, but an even more detailed look at the economics is provided by Richard Heinberg, writing for the Solutions Journal. (All emphasis in quotes is mine.)

The “clean coal” argument runs like this: America is brimming with cheap coal, which provides almost half our electricity and is the most carbon-intensive of the conventional fossil fuels. The nation will need an enormous amount of energy over the next few decades, but renewable sources just aren’t ready to provide all-or even the bulk-of that energy. Meanwhile, preventing catastrophic climate change requires that we stop venting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It is possible to capture and store the CO2 that would otherwise be emitted from burning coal, and elements of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology are already in use on a small scale. Put all of these factors together and the case for government funding of research and development of “clean coal” seems strong.However, several recent studies of US coal supplies suggest that much that we think we know about coal is wrong. If these studies are correct, the argument for investing in “clean coal” becomes tenuous on economic grounds alone. These studies call into question the one “fact” that both pro-coal and anti-coal lobbies have taken for granted: that the US has a virtually limitless supply of cheap coal.

Back in April, Democrat Rep. Nick Rahall (WV-03), spoke to this unpleasant truth. He noted “the state’s most productive coal seams likely will be exhausted in 20 years.” The backlash from in-state coal interests was strong. Rahall has not spoken about coal supplies since, and for that brief moment of truth his consequence is a coal-industry funded primary challenger.

USGS Chapter H Figure 11 on Flickr

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Raising the Dead: Memorial Day Activists Jailed in Protest to Stop 998 Coal Sludge Deaths

Reposted from the Huffington Post. Check out Mountain Justice. for the latest! Original post by Jeff Biggers

In three separate direct actions in the West Virginia coalfields yesterday, nonviolent protesters launched the new phase of Operation Appalachian Spring, a growing national campaign to stop mountaintop removal mining and raise awareness of the catastrophic potential of government regulated blasting near a precarious coal sludge impoundment.

“The toxic lake at Brushy Fork dam sits atop a honeycomb of abandoned underground mines,”said Chuck Nelson, from Raleigh County, W.Va. “Massey wants to blast within 100 feet of that dam. The company’s own filings with the state Department of Environmental Protection project a minimum death toll of 998 should the seven-billion-gallon dam break. EPA should override the DEP and revoke this blasting permit for the safety of the community.” Nelson did not participate in the civil disobedience actions.

The nearby Shumate Dam sits a few football fields atop the Marsh Fork elementary school.

In a telling if not bizarre twist of violations and governmental priorities, Mountain Justice activists who floated a “West Virginia Says No More Toxic Sludge” banner atop the toxic multi-billion gallon Brushy Fork slurry impoundment were arrested for “littering.”

Still unable to make bail, nine of the 17 arrested protesters are being held on trespassing charges at the Southern Regional Jail in Beckley, West Virginia. In an extraordinary move to crack down on the protesters, nine violators were given a cash bail of $2000 a piece, which, according to the organizers, prohibits a bail bondsman deposit and requires full payment.

Donations for the activists’ emergency bail fund can be made at a paypal link at: www.mountainjustice.org

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Update on Ash Spill From Mountain Justice Volunteers


Coming in from my friend Georgia Matt. They need help. Check out UMD’s website!:

Dear folks,

December 25, 2008

(Please post to any and all websites, blogs, and online news sources.)

For most of my life Christmas morning was a time of hanging out in my pajamas, opening presents, eating really good food, and spending time with my family.  This year was a little different.  I spent Christmas in the man-made disaster that used to surround TVA’s Kingston Coal Burning Power Plant.  Due to TVA’s negligence a HUGE coal ash pond exploded into the surrounding countryside dumping HUGE amounts of toxins into the local environment.  I awoke around 9am to begin the day’s work.  I was greeted by an online edition of a front page article in the New York Times which ran today covering this breaking news story.  I was happy to see the article listed on the front page but I was dismayed to see that the writer had missed some of the most important information that we had offered.  United Mountain Defense’s Volunteer Co-ordinator had spent nearly an hour on the phone yesterday getting the NYT up to speed on the issue and when I read the article there was no mention of United Mountain Defense or our Volunteer Co-ordinator.

The NYT got it wrong when they said, ” On Swan Pond Road, home to the residences nearest the plant, a group of environmental advocates went door to door telling residents that boiling their water, as officials had suggested, would not remove heavy metals.”  At no time did we tell people that their water had heavy metals in it as we have not done any laboratory testing and have not seen any test results that claim otherwise.  We merely suggested that other coal impacted citizens have had problems with their water and that heavy metals were found in other people’s water.  The info that we have been passing out to the people is pasted below and is found in the above attachments.

*******Please we want national, international, and intergalactic media coverage on this issue, but we want to keep the facts straight and we want United Mountain Defense to get credit for the work that we are doing.***************

Just think if the NYT called GreenPeace, Rainforest Action Network, or Coal River Mountain Watch don’t you think the NYT would write the information correctly and give these groups written credit for their work.  What is the difference here?

So once I was able to lasso United Mountain Defense’s volunteer force away from their families during this holiday season we headed down to ground zero, Harriman TN.  The time was nearly 1pm.  TVA had promised everyone that they were so on top of it that they would continue to work through this holiday in order to fix the problem.  The work that we observed TVA doing today was continuing to work to clear the railroad track.  This is a necessity to TVA because if they can’t Continue reading

UPDATE: Huge Environmental Disaster in Tennessee

Read below for the full story. Here is an update from our friends at United Mountain Defense

“Dear folks,   (Please repost this email to blogs or news sites)
Members of United Mountain Defense traveled today down to Harriman, TN to learn more first hand about the impacts of the coal ash pond failure.  We traveled on Swan Pond Rd visiting local residents and passing out information about the chemicals that may be present in the drinking water.  Begining at 3pm Dec 23, 2008 TVA officials began to visit all of the houses just prior to our visit advising residents to boil their drinking water before consuming it for the next 5 days.  Unfortunately TVA did not inform anyone about the reasons for needing to boil the water and any chemicals that may be present in their water.  The city of Harriman was working 24 hours a day to install a new water pipe in order to provide these residents with cleaner water.  Their current water source was a large spring which may have been contaminated by the spill. 
We also met a man who had been vomitting for the past 12 hours after drinking a couple of pots of coffee made from the tainted water.  We advised him to go to the hospital.
The corporate media has been reporting that affected citizens were being housed in a local motel, but we met many citizens who had spent the last two nights without electricity or gas heat in 27 F weather.  A source shared information that TVA knew that the coal ash dam had been leaking for months now.  We visited approximately 40 households many of which had not recieved any information other than what they could figure out from the minute long television segments or an isolated phone call from the water or gas utility.  TVA police were limiting access to Swan Pond Rd as utility crews were actively working on the roadway. 
United Mountain Defense is actively creating a plan of action to deal with this issue.  We plan to go back down to Harriman tomorrow.  The work is seeming to fall into a few catagories at this point.
We want to get more video, get more water samples from wells, springs, faucets, and sludge puddles.  We are going to get more familiar with the local area and resources.  We want to meet more locals, pass out info, and set up protests.  Any suggestions that you have would be greatly appreciated.  If you are able to test water samples for heavy metals or other specilized water testing please let us know.  We also have an updated list of demands below for TVA since they have been so naughty.  
Check out the Santa Protest Videos  http://dirtycoaltva.blogspot.com/
Visit our website at www.unitedmountaindefense.org
Feel free to send checks for copies, paper, gas and general support funds to
United Mountain Defense
P.O. Box 20363
Knoxville, TN 37920
Or go to www. United Mountain Defense.org  to pay on the Paypal account
Or at the PayPal account @  https://www.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_flow&SESSION=i7SeayH1xgHLmWLkgIXhg5z7CJJJan02PVOxEqHK_Af_MB9CZiWV-juGCcS&dispatch=5885d80a13c0db1f9fecf49521b3f5af727cc8f9db6c1fec0342a4f411eb2d06  
Thank you so much,  matt landon full time volunteer staff person United Mountain Defense “


On Monday, 12/22, a giant spill of coal ash slurry broke from a retention pond in Northern Tennessee. Read the post below from my friend Dana wrote. Worth checking out also is this video of the venerable RFK Jr. Talking about the evils of MTR. This spill is one of them. There’s no such thing as Clean Coal.




TVA’s Coal Ash Sludge Pond Bursts

Update (Thanks Dave Cooper): This Tennessee TVA spill is over 40-48 times bigger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, if local news accounts are correct.  This is a huge environmental disaster of epic proportions; approximately 500 million gallons of nasty black coal ash flowed into tributaries of the Tennessee River – the water supply for Chattanooga TN and millions of people living downstream in Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky. We’re “lucky” it was sludgy and slow moving, or thousands could have died.  Click here to see an amazing aerial video of the spill – the big chunks in the river are mounds of coal ash.


Suprisingly, the industry still says that coal will be “clean” if we find out how to sequester the carbon– here is more terrible proof they are wrong. On Monday, 39 groups, including our friends with the Citizens Coal Council and The Alliance for Appalachia banded together to ask President-Elect Obama to overturn Bush’s recent attempts to de-regulate coal ash even more.

In some twist of grim irony, the night before these groups sent out their demand for increased regulation of coal ash, 4 to 6 feet of toxic coal ash and ice cold slurry burst out of a faulty TVA containment pond in Eastern Tennessee and destroyed 12 homes, 400 acres, and wrecked a train; you can read more about it in the Knoxville News Sentinel. This break isn’t the first terrible sludge dam disaster. It is a huge tragedy, and we won’t know for years how the mercury, arsenic, and other toxic heavy metals like beryllium and cadmium commonly found in coal ash will have impacted the local community and wildlife.

Coal ash is what is leftover when you burn coal. Coal ash is an enormous problem throughout the US. It is more radioactive than nuclear waste, according to Scientific American and is under-regulated. It is made into concrete, drywall, and as a road building material. People living near coal ash dumps have been estimated to have up to 900 times the national cancer rates.

I might hazard a guess that that cancer figure just increased even more in eastern Tennessee.

Local, Local, Local

My ideal social ideology is libertarian socialism. I believe in localized, non-hierarchical, self-governed communities with shared resources and lack of oppressive social hierarchies that cause and reinforce harmful social dynamics. I think there are inherit flaws in capitalism that cannot be remedied with market-based or state-created solutions. This being said, I find the need to write on how this affects my everyday life and my activism.2378897283_f799b3b3e0_m1

In relating my ideal social ideology to most people, the immediate response is that the abolition of the state would never work because there would be chaos and power-hungry people which would result in mass-violence. Or they try to fit this ideology within the framework of electoral politics, also declaring it would never work. Of course libertarian socialism would not work in the context of our nation, that goes against its own definition and theory! No radical believes that libertarian socialism would be the ‘policy’ of a nation. It is highly localized and obviously cannot be ‘applied’ to a community from the top down. With that said, most of the radicals I know and work with believe that the creation of their ideologies in their own lives and communities will reduce the reliance on the capitalist economy at least on a personal level, and in theory will make the ‘state’  less powerful by the creation of alternative institutions and ideas.

Therefore, my actions lead not to the direct abolition of the state. The purpose of my activism is to do what is within my reach to end social and environmental injustice caused by or perpetuated by oppressive hierarchies and power dynamics, and to participate in the creation of non-hierarchical alternative institutions. Contrary to popular belief about anti-authoritarian activists, my activism is not centered around urgently trying to impose my ideal society in the current context of our nation, as that would be unrealistic, contradictory, and unproductive. Rather, my ideal social ideology serves as a framework for my community relations, friendships, projects, attention, and opinions.

A Weekend in Wise

Come to Southwest Virgina for a Weekend in Wise, a Weekend for the Mountains
The people of Southwest Virginia are not giving up…and neither should you
A chance to see the mountains and meet the people threatened by corporate greed, and to stand together for a sustainable future!

Join us for a Weekend in Wise County, in the incredible mountains of Appalachia. The weekend will include tours of Mountaintop Removal sites, service projects, local music, hiking and canoeing trips, as well as trainings on how to bring the fight for a clean energy future back to your own home town. Meet the folks leading the charge against the greed of coal and energy companies by standing up for a brighter future. See the beauty of the land we are all fighting to protect, and see the devastation that threatens the future of Appalachia.
Events will begin on Friday evening at 8 p.m. and will end on Sunday at 5 p.m. with a Prayer Vigil for the Future of SW Virginia. Friday night will include dinner, a movie and an update on the state of the campaign to stop Dominion’s dirty coal plant in Wise County.
Plan to stay Sunday afternoon for a Prayer Vigil for the Future of Southwest Virginia with Christians for the Mountains. The vigil will take place from 5 – 6 p.m. in Wise County.

Where: Wise County, Virginia
When: September 12 -14
Why: To learn about mountaintop removal and to experience the beauty of Southwest Virginia.
What to Bring: You, your family, your friends, a tent and sleeping bag for camping (other options are available by request), a camera, notebook, and an open mind.

Food and accommodations will be provided at no cost, but donations will be gladly accepted to support local efforts. Travel scholarships are available by request.

Stay Tuned for more information, or go ahead and email your questions. An agenda will be posted shortly.
To all Virginian Climate activists, a space is set aside Sunday for a planning session for Virginia Power Shift.
This is our opportunity to stand together, across the region, to say “No Mountaintop Removal! No New Dominion Coal Plant in Wise County” and “YES Clean Renewable Energy, NOW!” Together, let’s show Dominion that we’re not backing down.