On Monday Living on Earth did a priceless interview with former utility exec David Freeman, ex-head of the TVA (and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and the New York Power Authority), about the massive Tennessee coal ash spill.
Freeman’s a crusty old coot (in a good way!) and he minces no words. Hard to pick my favorite bit, but this is a gem:
CURWOOD: Now it seemed to me though that there must be some kind of alternative to just dumping the stuff in a big pile. I mean, what alternatives, if any, are there out there?
FREEMAN: Well, the best one is to stop burning the coal and shut the plant down and use solar power and wind power. I am not gonna suggest that there is a clean way to control the filthy stuff that’s left over when you burn coal. It’s time that we outlawed new coal-fired plants and start systematically by age, shutting down the old ones.
You know, this incident needs to be viewed in the totality of the coal cycle, and it’s a reminder that Madison Avenue can buy billions of dollars worth of ads and put the words "clean coal" in the mouth of the president-elect and everybody else, but that doesn’t make the stuff clean.
There is a certain religious adherence to low-priced electricity that grew up over the years to where the public power folks felt that anything that would raise the price of electricity was wrong, you know. I was sued by my distributors when I started enforcing the Clean Air Act back then, but they finally gave up. And I used to argue with them that it’s not cheap if it’s at the expense of the environment.
This is what the National Mining Association told LOE in its own defense:
With the economy flat on its back it is irresponsible to use a single incident to denigrate the promise of clean coal technology, or the contributions that coal makes to the economy.
Me, I side with the coot.