A raging debate has emerged as to whether clean coal is claptrap or crap trap.
On the one side are people who think that clean coal means coal plants with carbon capture and storage for the vast majority of the carbon dioxide they emit (or that coal isn’t clean under any plausible definition of the word “clean”). Since there are no commercial utility-scale CCS plants, that makes clean coal claptrap. This group consists of:
- Virtually all enviros, like the the “Reality” Coalition (see “Memo to Gore: Don’t call coal ‘clean’ seven times in your ad“)
- NBC’s Brian Williams (who called clean coal “an oxymoron. Wishful thinking“)
- My boss at DOE (who used to practice saying “clean coal” in front of a mirror so he wouldn’t burst into laughter)
- Most rational people
This group can point to the fact that neither the Bush Administration nor the coal industry took CCS seriously enough to put in sufficient funds to save Futuregen, which “administration officials were calling … a ‘centerpiece‘ of their strategy for clean coal technologies” just a year ago. But then centerpieces are largely decorative, no?
On the other side are people who think that clean coal means “cleaner coal” with a focus on “criteria and hazardous air pollutants regulated by federal and state clean air act laws per unit of energy produced.” In other words, clean coal is coal power that traps some of the traditional crap that comes out of smoke stacks. This clean-coal-as-pooper-scooper group consists of
- The coal industry
- Coal industry front groups with oxymoronic names (i.e. American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity)
- Coal industry front groups with non-oxymoronic names (i.e. The Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy)
This group can point to the fact that greewashing, oxymorons, and general bullsh!t have become standard elements of modern political discourse (see “I see a green wash and I want it painted black” and Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”).
I side with the clean coal is claptrap group (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?“). I’m not at all against aggressive R&D and demonstration of CCS — far from it — I just don’t expect it to provide a cost-effective low carbon solution for a long time.
Claptrap or crap trap — pick your poison. Either way, we need to push efficiency and renewables super-aggressively now if we are to have any chance of averting catastrophic climate change (see “Is 450 ppm possible? Part 5: Old coal’s out, can’t wait for new nukes, so what do we do NOW?“).