Last updated on: 9/24/2020 | Author: ProCon.org

Should the US Use “Clean Coal” as an Energy Source?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

David Grossman, staff writer for PopularMechanics.com, in an Aug. 23, 2017 article, “How Does Clean Coal Work?,” available at popularmechanics.com, stated:

“The term ‘clean coal’ has been applied to many technologies, ranging from wet scrubbers, which remove sulfur dioxide from coal-generated gas, to coal washing, which removes soil and rock from coal before it’s sent to a factory. Hypothetically, the term could be applied to anything that makes coal plants more efficient, like digitization. However, when people talk about clean coal these days, they’re typically talking about something called carbon capture and storage (CCS).

CCS technology has been around since the 1980s. While the other technologies mentioned above cut down on sulfur dioxide and coal ash (which are important), CCS is meant to handle the big environmental nightmare, the heat-trapping gas largely responsible for global warming, carbon dioxide (CO2).”

Aug. 23, 2017

Jessica McDonald, PhD, Science Writer at Factcheck.org, in a Nov. 9, 2018 article, “Clearing Up the Facts Behind Trump’s ‘Clean Coal’ Catchphrase,” available at factcheck.org, stated:

“Understanding the basics of how coal-based carbon capture and sequestration works will help explain why it isn’t more widespread.

There are three main ways to do carbon capture, which differ in when and how the CO2 is removed:

–Post-combustion: CO2 is captured after the coal has been burned. This is the only capture method in commercial operation. Essentially, before the flue gases are sent up the chimney, the CO2 is pulled out with chemicals, usually nitrogen-rich amines. This technique can be applied to existing coal plants as a retrofit — a huge advantage over the other methods. But it still takes quite a bit of energy to run the system, [Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University] Edward S. Rubin explained, mainly because the CO2-absorbing chemicals need to be stripped of CO2 so they can be regenerated and used again.

–Pre-combustion: CO2 is captured from a coal-sourced gas before being burned. The carbon capture part is less expensive than in post-combustion capture, but the overall cost of gasification plants is high. To Rubin’s knowledge, just two American power plants use gasification at all. One plant, in Kemper County, Mississippi, was designed to do coal gasification with carbon capture, but had to scrap those plans after cost overruns and delays. It now runs on natural gas.

–Oxy-fuel: Coal is burned in oxygen rather than air. This makes it easier to collect the CO2, but according to Rubin, running an oxygen plant takes a lot of energy, and the economics may or may not make sense compared with post-combustion capture.”

Nov. 9, 2018

Brad Plumer, climate reporter, in an Aug. 23, 2017 article, “What ‘Clean Coal’ Is — and Isn’t,” available at nytimes.com, stated:

“The term ‘clean coal’ was popularized in 2008 by coal industry groups, at a time when Congress was contemplating climate change legislation. While the term is deliberately vague, it is often understood to mean coal plants that capture the carbon dioxide emitted from smokestacks and bury it underground as a way of limiting global warming.

This technology, known as carbon capture and storage, is still in its infancy. Only one coal plant in the United States, the Petra Nova project in Texas, actually captures CO2 in this fashion, having come online in January with the help of $190 million from the Obama administration. The carbon dioxide is pumped underground into nearby oil fields to help extract hard-to-reach crude.

The technology is costly and complex. The Southern Company had to abandon a more ambitious coal carbon capture project in Kemper, Miss., in June [2017] after it ran $4 billion over budget. No other coal plants of this sort are currently being constructed in the United States.”

Aug. 23, 2017

PRO (yes)

Pro

National Mining Association, in an article, “Clean Coal Technology,” accessed on Sep. 24, 2020 and available at rmcmi.org, stated:

“CCT research and development will allow for the continued use of America’s abundant domestic coal resources and the affordable energy it provides to business and consumers. Clean coal technologies are required to continue improving energy efficiency and to meet increasingly stringent environmental challenges and expectations, especially in the areas of mercury control and carbon capture and storage, while continuing to reduce emissions of SO2 and NOx. A key objective of the program is the development of a zero emission coal-based hydrogen production facility incorporating carbon sequestration (FutureGen).

While industry will finance significant portions of each CCT project, it is critical that the federal government provide funding through the appropriations process for the Department of Energy’s clean coal programs and the FutureGen project. Sufficient funding is needed to assure continued research, development and demonstration of a new generation of advanced technologies that are promising but too high-risk to be financed solely by private industry. A strong federal commitment to clean coal technology will allow America to take full advantage of its vast 240 year supply of coal reserves to meet growing demand for electricity and supporting economic growth while meeting critical environmental objectives.”

Sep. 24, 2020

Pro

Steven Winberg, MBA, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy for the Department of Energy, in a June 26, 2020 article, “Clean Coal Is Crucial for American Jobs, Energy Security, and National Supply Chains,” available at energy.gov, stated:

“DOE [Department of Energy] is researching and developing an entirely new market for coal that uses the carbon value of coal, not the heating value. Coal’s high carbon content makes it an ideal feedstock for a variety of high-value materials ranging from carbon fiber to graphene to building materials. Coal can also serve as a feedstock for hydrogen production. Hydrogen is a transitional carbon-free energy source that can be used for power generation and as a transportation fuel.

This work is key. According to NETL, over the next 30 years, new coal production of 145-345 million tons could result in 47,500 coal mining jobs. The carbon products could also result in product value of near $139 billion and 480,000 manufacturing jobs tied directly to carbon products.

To continue to reap the many benefits of coal, we need to make it cleaner. DOE is doing its part via a new initiative called Coal FIRST, which will lay the groundwork for tomorrow’s coal plants by making them flexible, innovative, resilient, small, and transformative. Our goal is that one day those plants will become emissions-free…

By fostering increases in clean coal and natural gas production, we’re helping to ensure reliable energy for the American people, bringing back American jobs, and increasing national security.”

June 26, 2020

Pro

Dan Ervin, author, in a July 7, 2020 article, “The US Must Still Focus on Clean Coal Technologies,” available at realclearenergy.org, stated:

“When environmentalists talk about carbon mitigation, they invariably leave out coal technology. That’s absurd. The reality is that, despite coal plant shutdowns in the United States and Europe, coal is prospering in Asia and beyond, and this requires a new way of thinking and talking about the transition to clean energy sources and how to facilitate the use of coal in an environmentally sound way – recognizing the considerable benefits this will bring in an era of economic uncertainty…

Whether or not Green New Dealers like it, coal is here to stay and U.S. leadership in developing and demonstrating advanced coal technologies is more urgent than ever.

The U.S. must crank up its rate of innovation. A good start is the Department of Energy’s Coal FIRST program, with its commitment to developing modular coal plants that produce electricity with nearly no carbon emissions. Further demonstration of carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies must also be part of the equation…

U.S. energy and climate leadership will make clean energy technologies of all kinds affordable and globally ubiquitous. Domestic energy and climate policy that turns its back on coal and coal technologies, turns its back on meaningful global solutions.”

July 7, 2020

Pro

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity stated the following in its article “Commitment to Clean,” available at its website (accessed Mar. 13, 2009):

“Thanks to an abundance of coal, combined with American ingenuity and advanced technologies, we don’t have to choose between affordable energy and improved air quality.

That’s right – electricity from coal is getting even cleaner everyday.

There has never been an environmental challenge facing the coal-based electricity sector for which technology has not provided the ultimate solution. Even as the use of coal for generating electricity has nearly tripled over the past 30 years, emissions from coal-based power plants have been dramatically reduced through the use of advanced technologies. Today’s coal-based electricity generating fleet is 70% cleaner than it was in 1970 (based upon emissions per unit of energy produced)…

The industry has committed itself to even further emissions reductions to eliminate virtually all emissions of pollutants regulated under federal and state clean air laws.

The key environmental question facing the coal-based electricity sector is whether coal can remain a viable part of our energy future even as the U.S. and the world implement programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector. Technology experts agree, that we’ll meet this challenge, and that coal will remain a low-cost energy option in the future even considering the cost of new technologies to capture and store CO2 – a common greenhouse gas.”

Mar. 13, 2009 - American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity

Pro

The United States Department of Energy Office of Clean Coal stated the following in its Sep. 2006 publication “Office of Clean Coal Strategic Plan: Moving America Towards an Affordable ‘Zero Emissions’ Coal Energy Option,” available at its website:

“Imagine a future in which power from our most abundant and lowest cost energy resource is pollution-free. Imagine a future in which we no longer have concerns about the effects power and fuels production will have on the global climate of our children or their children. Imagine a future in which America’s energy security is strengthened by replacing increasing amounts of imported oil with clean-burning, affordable fuels made from plentiful resources within our borders.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Clean Coal Program is working to make this future possible. For the first time in the long history of fossil fuel use, we now see emerging from our laboratories and test sites the tools and technologies that can make the concept of a virtually zero-emission (‘zero’ emissions), coal based energy plant a viable reality – not 50 or 100 years into the future – but within the coming decade.

The aim of ‘zero’ emissions coal is to remove all the environmental concerns (including carbon emissions) over the use of coal.”

Sep. 2006 - United States Department of Energy (DOE)

Pro

H. Sterling Burnett, PhD, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), stated the following in his Jan. 2008 article “Power for the Future: The Debate Over New Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas,” available at the Texas Public Policy Foundation website:

“Only one fuel presently meets the United State’s and Texas’ increasing demand for energy independence, low cost, reliability, and the ability to meed increasing demand in the short-time frame needed: coal… the U.S. has 27 percent of the world’s coal reserves, enough domestic reserves to meet demand for more than 250 years…

Fortunately, building new coal-fired power plants does not mean dirtier air and increased health risks…

The pace of technological improvement and change, combined with existing and increasingly stringent federal air pollution requirements, ensure that air pollution will substantially decrease in the next two decades – even as energy use in general and coal generated electricity in particular continue to increase…

How has the nation’s air quality improved despite the increasing use of coal to generate electricity? The short answer is older coal-fired power plants emitted 90 percent more pollution than new state-of-the-art plants.”

Jan. 2008 - H. Sterling Burnett, PhD

Pro

Robert Byrd, US Senator (D-WV), stated the following in a Jan. 27, 2009 press release titled “Byrd Announces Billions for Coal in Senate Stimulus Bill,” available at his website:

“Clean, carbon-neutral coal can be a ‘green’ energy… As Congress strives to develop a national energy policy that will break our dependence on foreign oil, it is crucial to ensure that coal, burned in cleaner more efficient ways, is part of our nation’s diverse energy mix for the future. These investments [$4.6 billion for coal projects] will help to bolster West Virginia’s economic future.”

Jan. 27, 2009 - Robert C. Byrd, JD

Pro

Bryan J. Hannegan, PhD, Vice President of Environment and Generation at the Electric Power Research Institute, stated the following in his Mar. 22, 2007 testimony, “Future of Coal,” for the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

“Coal currently provides over half of the electricity used in the United States, and most forecasts of future energy use in the United States show that coal will continue to have a dominant share in our electric power generation for the foreseeable future. Coal is a stably priced, affordable, domestic fuel that can be used in an environmentally responsible manner. Through development of advanced pollution control technologies and sensible regulatory programs, emissions of criteria air pollutants from new coal-fired power plants have been reduced by more than 90% over the past three decades. And by displacing otherwise needed imports of natural gas or fuel oil, coal helps address America’s energy security and reduces our trade deficit with respect to energy.”

Mar. 22, 2007 - Bryan J. Hannegan, PhD

CON (no)

Con

End Coal, in an article, “Myth 2: Coal Is Clean,” accessed on Sep. 24, 2020 and available at endcoal.org, stated:

“When the industry talks about “clean coal,” it is referring to a range of technologies that burn coal more efficiently, and pollution controls that remove some of the nastiest pollutants from the smokestack. Yet even the most efficient coal-fired power plants only operate at around 44% efficiency, meaning that 56% of the energy content of the coal is lost. These plants emit 15 times more carbon dioxide than renewable energy systems and twice as much CO2 as gas-fired power plants.

Pollution controls can remove sulphur dioxide, nitrous oxides, PM2.5 and mercury from the smokestacks. However, installing these pollution controls can add hundreds of millions of dollars to the cost of a new coal plant, making them more expensive than other renewable options, and discouraging their adoption… While pollution controls can remove a lot of the toxic waste from the smokestake, these toxins end up in the coal ash. This ash is stored in waste ponds or landfills which leach sulfur dioxide and heavy metals into surface and groundwater…

Furthermore, there are considerable questions about the technical viability of CCS. It is unclear whether CO2 can be permanently sequestered underground and what seismic risks underground storage poses.

Ultimately, coal cannot be considered “clean” when you factor in the air and water pollution generated by coal mining, preparation, transport and combustion. Pollution from the coal life cycle harms human health and the environment. Clean coal is a dirty lie.”

Sep. 24, 2020

Con

Kendra Pierre-Louis, climate reporter, in an Oct. 13, 2017 article, “There’s No Such Thing as Clean Coal,” available at popsci.com, stated:

“Between the wildfires, the hurricanes, and the droughts, one thing that this summer [2017] has made clear is not just that the climate is going to change, but that climate change is already here…

[T]he overwhelming evidence shows that coal is dying. Natural gas is already cheaper, and a report commissioned by Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently said as much. Natural gas killed the coal power plant, and renewable energy has the potential to power the world without destroying it in the process. Coal is over. The only question we should be asking is what we’ll use to replace it.”

Oct. 13, 2017

Con

Natasha Geiling, environmental journalist, in a Sep. 25, 2018 article, “Clean Coal Is Not a Joke,” available at sierraclub.org, stated:

“When the fossil fuel industry talks about clean coal, it’s talking about coal-fired power plants that capture the carbon emissions from burning coal and stores them somewhere else, usually underground…

Yet burying the carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants doesn’t fix the fact that coal and its byproducts are inherently toxic. Perhaps it’s easy to misunderstand what ‘clean coal’ is supposed to mean. But such confusion comes at the expense of the people—usually poor, often people of color—who are forced to suffer the consequences of coal ash and coal dust and coal mining.”

Sep. 25, 2018

Con

Frances Beinecke, MA, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, stated the following in her Feb. 27, 2009 article “Debunking the Myth of Clean Coal,” available at the onEarth website:

“Following the example of Big Tobacco, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry-funded group, is spending $45 million on advertising in an attempt to convince the American public that coal power is good for the environment. But no matter how much the industry spends on PR wizardry, it can’t turn myth into reality. Saying coal is clean is like talking about healthy cigarettes. There is no such thing as clean coal…

Every single step in the coal-power cycle is dirty, beginning with extraction. The method of mountaintop-removal mining involves literally blowing off the tops of mountains and dumping the debris into valleys below. More than 700 miles of Appalachian mountain streams have been buried under the resultant waste. Meanwhile, communities must endure continuous explosions, damaged water supplies, and mine operations as close as 300 feet from homes and schools. Pollution from coal-fired plants is not only the biggest contributor to global warming, but it also contributes to 24,000 deaths a year in the United States. Even after it’s burned, coal leaves a hazardous legacy. In December the nation witnessed just how dangerous coal ash waste can be when a massive spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee flooded more than 400 acres with 1 billion gallons of cancer-causing sludge. There are 1,300 similar coal ash dumps in the country, and not one of them is regulated by the federal government.”

Feb. 27, 2009 - Frances Beinecke, MA

Con

Van Jones, JD, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Founding President of Green For All, stated the following during a Jan. 7, 2009 radio interview by Tim Einenkel on Air America titled “A Green Economy: Van Jones,” available at the Air America website:

“Clean coal is a fantasy fuel. It does not exist. Right now, coal-fired power plants can remove some of the sulphur from the pollution that the plants spew out of their smokestacks. But the carbon – which is our number one enemy, which is the pollutant that is literally cooking the planet – cannot be effectively captured when power plants burn carbon. The technology simply does not exist.

Besides, show me a clean process for strip-mining, or for mountain-top removal. Coal is not just dirty to burn. It is dirty to mine. The reason we hear all this chatter about clean coal is that the coal industry is dumping millions of dollars into a PR campaign. Clean coal does represent a breakthrough – in the marketing of coal. But it does not represent a breakthrough in the burning of coal.

If we are going to call for clean coal, we may as well promote other fantasy fuels, too. Why not? For instance, let’s propose that unicorns pull our cars for us. Let’s propose that the tooth fairy bring us our energy at night and leave it under our pillow. All three of those ideas – clean coal, cars pulled by unicorn and the tooth fairy bringing us energy – are equally fanciful and ludicrous.”

Jan. 7, 2009 - Van Jones, JD

Con

Rainforest Action Network, an environmental non-profit organization, stated the following in a fact sheet on its website titled “The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal,” available at www.ran.org (accessed Mar. 12, 2009):

“All fossil fuels, including coal, are running out. The longer we keep relying on them, the worse off our environment, climate and society will be.

The fact is, coal will never be sustainable or clean, so don’t let the coal industry con you with slick slogans and marketing…

Currently, the term ‘clean coal’ covers everything from scrubbers on conventional coal plants to marginally more efficient burning processes to futuristic ‘near-zero emission’ technologies that may never be technologically, economically or socially viable…

What the coal industry conveniently omits from its sales pitch is the fact that the entire life cycle of coal is dirty. Before it is burned, coal must be mined, transported and refined. Coal extraction leads to entire mountain ranges destroyed by strip mining; rising rates of asthma and lung disease; water pollution; and the creation of massive amounts of toxic wastes. Coal enthusiasts never mention what it takes to get coal out of the ground in the first place.”

Mar. 12, 2009 - Rainforest Action Network

Con

William L. Chameides, PhD, Dean of the Nicholas School of Earth & Ocean Sciences at Duke University, stated the following in his Feb. 4, 2009 article “Clean Coal’s Dirty Secret – When ‘Clean’ Isn’t Clean,” available at the Nicholas School of the Environment website:

“Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. Burning it produces a myriad of noxious air pollutants. That’s a problem. Clean coal technology supposedly scrubs those pollutants before they get into the atmosphere. Problem gone, right? Not quite…

Since 2002 coal-fired power plants in the United States have produced an average of more than 120 million short tons of coal waste each year. In 2007 the United States produced more than 131 million short tons of coal waste. Only about 40 percent of that is recycled, and the rest is dumped into landfills and containment ponds…

There is also the serious problem of air pollutants: these include sulfur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM), which contribute to acid rain and smog, and a plethora of toxic metals such as mercury…

In the case of air pollution from coal-fired power plants… we’ve developed and implemented technologies that remove the air pollutants from the flue gas and convert them into solid materials…

Once all these solid products are ‘caught,’ they are thrown into the solid waste stream building up around the country in containment ponds and landfills.”

Feb. 4, 2009 - William L. Chameides, PhD

Con

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., LLM, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and Chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance, stated the following in his Nov. 29, 2007 article “Coal’s True Cost,” available at the Huffington Post website:

“There is no such thing as ‘clean coal.’ And coal is only ‘cheap’ if one ignores its calamitous externalized costs. In addition to global warming, these include dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates. Coal’s most catastrophic and permanent impacts are from mountaintop removal mining. If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country.”

Nov. 29, 2007 - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., LLM