What do you call it when a society knowingly cripples itself? I’m not sure. But historians studying our strange slow-motion self-immolation will find much to ponder in articles like this:

Top executives at many utility companies have reluctantly accepted that coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming, and they have begun planning for a more restrictive future.

Then there is C. John Wilder, chief executive of TXU Corp. The Dallas-based utility company is racing to build 11 big power plants in Texas that will burn pulverized coal. That process releases substantial amounts of carbon dioxide, the most worrisome of several heat-trapping gases widely blamed for global warming.

TXU contends Texas needs a lot more power, and it wants to be the company to provide it. Critics of its $11 billion construction program see another motivation: The federal government may slap limits on carbon-dioxide emissions. If it does, plants completed sooner may have a distinct advantage. That’s because the government may dole out "allowances" to release carbon dioxide, and plants up and running when regulations go into effect may qualify for more of them than those built at a later date.

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Obscene enough. But then, get this:

TXU’s Mr. Wilder declined to be interviewed. When he unveiled his plant-building plan in May, he dubbed it a "clean coal initiative." He said it was voluntary and would reduce by 20% TXU’s emission of regulated pollutants including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and mercury, due to the installation of more pollution-control equipment on older plants.

Environmentalists say "clean coal" is a misleading label. The reductions, they say, aren’t as voluntary as the company claims. TXU is required to reduce its emissions of certain pollutants by 2015, and its plan moves up the timetable to 2010. "I think we should be applauded for it," says Mike McCall, chief executive of TXU Wholesale, the unit that runs TXU’s generation business.

One hardly knows what to say.

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(via Env. Econ.)