Energy Secretary Steven Chu has officially gone over to the dark side of Big Coal.
First, the question begs to be asked: Has Sec. Chu ever visited an underground coal mine or a strip-mine operation anywhere in the United States during his tenure in the Department of Energy?
Speaking on the heels of a new study about "peak coal," agonizing testimony of coal ash debacles, reckless expansion of strip-mining from Alabama to Utah's Bryce National Park and 20-odd states and devastating longwall mining in the American heartland, and one of the bloodiest years of coal mining in decades, Sec. Chu emphatically took up the torch to "save coal" this week.
Appearing next to the failed climate bill's ardent enemy US Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) in Charleston, West Virginia last week, Chu triumphantly told his Big Coal listeners that he would "save coal" by investing billions into still infeasible, prohibitively expensive, unproven and fanciful carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
Why? As Big Coal is banking, should some magical breakthrough ever make CCS feasible in the next 10-20 years, coal mining production would INCREASE by 20-30 percent, in order to handle the increased energy demands of capturing, compressing, piping, storing and chasing those CO2 emissions.
Peak coal and CCS's unanswered questions notwithstanding, Chu is effectively making false promises of prosperity, while sentencing coalfield communities to another generation of outside corporate plunder, lost jobs and poverty and blocked economic diversification, forced relocation, and a rising deathtoll from black lung disease (10,000 miners in the last decade), toxic coal slurry contamination, and mercury emissions.
Instead of genuflecting to the boom-bust heavily mechanized Big Coal industry -- strip mining strips jobs, using explosives and bulldozers instead of miners -- why isn't Chu helping coalfield communities get their fair share of the clean energy jobs, investment funds for clean energy manufacturing, and advocating for a G.I. Bill for coal miners and former coal miners, to get education and retraining, and help launch the weatherization programs with electricians, plumbers, construction workers, or massive reforestation programs with the same bulldozer drivers?
It's been a long and twisted journey for the Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Energy secretary.
A few years ago, Chu told his UC Berkeley listeners: "Coal is my worst nightmare."
At his Senate confirmation hearings last year, Chu tempered his view of coal to "a bad dream."
This week, as elections heat up for Democrats in West Virginia, Chu declared: "We are the Saudi Arabia of coal... No one is going to turn their back on coal. The issue is how to use coal in a clean way."
Unfortunately, Sec. Chu, over 200 years of experience for those of us who live in the Saudi Arabia of coal have demonstrated that coal can never be mined or burned in a clean way.
And you know that -- or did, once upon a time.
Follow Jeff Biggers on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jeffrbiggers