The LA Times has a long story about the growing conflict over coal-to-liquid (CTL) fuel. This is the most important paragraph in the piece, though it is inexplicably buried at the bottom:

A new study has concluded that turning coal into liquid fuel yields 125% more carbon dioxide than producing diesel fuel and 66% more than gasoline. If the carbon dioxide is captured and permanently stored, liquid coal emits 20% more greenhouse gas than diesel but 11% less than conventional gasoline, according to the study to be released next week by Argonne National Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department.

In plain English, this means that best case scenario — all new CTL plants are accompanied by CO2 sequestration facilities — you come out with a fuel that’s barely better on greenhouse-gas emissions than gasoline.

With regard to global warming, the very best we could do with CTL is stay on the same disastrous trajectory we are on now. Does that sound like something that deserves taxpayer subsidies?

Yes, if your job depends on remaining in the good graces of the coal industry:

A bipartisan group of lawmakers, including one presidential candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), is pushing to provide federal loan guarantees, tax breaks and other subsidies to spur the production of fuel from coal.

If that’s not enough to sour your Obamamania, get a load of this:

Obama, who is sponsoring separate legislation to cap carbon dioxide emissions, said his support for coal fuel depended on finding a way to remove the greenhouse gases emitted in production.

“If it is used simply to compound the problem of greenhouse gases, then it’s not going to be a credible strategy,” he said.

The bill does not require that the fuel be produced without increasing greenhouse gas emissions, though it does offer tax incentives to encourage the use of technology that captures carbon dioxide. [my emphasis]

Let’s review what we know:

  1. To slow or stop global warming, we need to drastically reduce the emissions from the transportation sector.
  2. CTL would increase emissions from the transportation sector, unless every CTL plant was accompanied by a (massively expensive, technically unproven) CO2 sequestration facility, in which case it would keep emissions on their present course.
  3. The bills being proposed to funnel taxpayer subsidies to the coal industry for CTL do not require that they be accompanied by CO2 sequestration facilities.

The coal industry has done more than any other to degrade our atmosphere and threaten our future. Now coal barons want to further degrade the atmosphere by creating liquid fuel. And Barack Obama wants taxpayers to pay them to do it.

This CTL issue is a clear dividing line for legislators. Are you serious about global warming — about our collective future, and our kids’ future — or are you more concerned with the parochial corporate interests of your home state?

Montana’s Jon Tester has chosen to be serious about global warming. Obama has made a different choice.