Clean coal technology can help the president achieve his goal

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The president is using his executive powers to rein in the release of carbon emissions from our coal-fired power plants, declaring a goal of 30 percent reduction of carbon emissions by the year 2030. I applaud the president for his determination and courage in advancing this important work while his foes in Congress and all of the “friends of coal” throughout our region whine about the danger to our economy and the number of jobs that will be lost.

Well, the coal companies and the power companies did the same thing throughout the last decades of the last century when the Clean Air Act and other significant environmental laws and regulations were passed. But their prediction of doom did not materialize then just as it won’t materialize now.

New environmental regulations can, indeed, be disruptive. In order for significant changes and improvements in our way of life to occur, there will be some temporary disorder: Jobs will be lost in one sector of our economy for equally good jobs in another sector. In this case, as old and polluting coal generation plants are mothballed, new technologies like wind turbine farms, solar-to-electric generating facilities and nuclear generating plants will be built. Generally speaking, the new jobs to be created will be greater in number and in earning power than those that are lost.

But here is the good news for all those who are whining about President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.” There are advanced technologies available now and ready for broad-scale commercial implementation that utilize our vast coal resources to generate electricity to replace the worn-out polluters that in some cases were built over 50 years ago.

I speak here of the technology that was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy and its corporate partners in the clean coal technology programs of the 1990s — integrated coal gasification combined cycle, or IGCC. In this technology, coal is gasified under pressure to produce a fuel gas that is cleaned of acid pollutants and mercury and other toxic metals to over 99.9 percent purity. The gas is then cleanly burned in a combustion turbine-generator to produce electricity. And these advanced, clean generators will operate at efficiencies that are better by over 30 percent when compared to existing coal plants. Thus the targeted 30 percent carbon emissions reduction can literally be achieved while still utilizing coal.

The coal companies know this. The power companies know this. The politicians know this. Why isn’t the Department of Energy speaking up?

Mt. Lebanon

The writer is a former U.S. Department of Energy senior executive responsible for implementing the clean coal technology program.

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