On the heels of a major Wall Street Journal report that we are reaching "peak coal," and revelations that the Bush administration buried a 2002 report on the cancer risks associated with coal ash, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu made a $1.073 billion down payment today on the construction of FutureGen, "the first commercial scale, fully integrated, carbon capture and sequestration project in the country in Mattoon, Illinois."
Chu's buy-in into "clean coal," a phrase that young liberal Democrat Francis Peabody first used back in the 1890s to peddle his brand of "smoke-free" clean coal in Chicago, places him in the company of FutureGen Alliance promoters like Peabody Energy, whose first quarter 2009 profits "only tripled" this spring--Peabody celebrated an 8-fold increase in profits in the last quarter of 2008.
A lot of hot air has been emitted on the dangerous oxymoron of "clean coal," but the truth remains that with carbon capture and storage technology still in the experimental phase, Secretary Chu still does not know whether FutureGen's attempt to capture those CO2 emissions and bury them into the earth will be economically feasible, safe (in terms of leaks or accidents or earthquakes) or possible within the next decade.
Which is why Chu is only making a $1.073 billion down payment--"Following the completion of the detailed cost estimate and fundraising activities, the Department of Energy and the FutureGen Alliance will make a decision either to move forward or to discontinue the project early in 2010."
In the meantime, if we take our eyes off the billowing CO2 emissions for a moment, this is what we do know about "clean coal": FutureGen means we will be extracting even more coal.
Even in the best scenarios, according to most studies, FutureGen-type CCS plants would require increased fuel needs by 25%-40%.
And extracting, transporting and burning MORE coal means MORE dirty and deadly "clean coal" mining, whether it is underground mining, longwall mining, or strip mining (such as mountaintop removal).
And here are some clips on the overlooked aspects of "clean coal" rhetoric: black lung disease, which still kills three miners daily; longwall mining, which is devastating Midwestern and Appalachian farms; and mountaintop removal, which has resulted in the destruction of 500 mountains and 1.2 million acres of hardwood forests, and the contamination of watersheds and streams.
Mountaintop Removal and Poisoned Black Waters:
Black Lung on the Rise: