Obama Administration to Rely on 'Clean Coal' and Unproven Sequestration to Combat Climate Change
By Sharon Kelly
The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement last week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.
Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).
Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama's strategy is administered.
The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this."
What's wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn 20 percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world's coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.
The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.
In May, carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere reached 400 parts per million—the highest level of carbon dioxide ever recorded in human history. Last year, the continental U.S. experienced its hottest year on record, and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that climate-related disasters like crop loss, wildfires and floods cost the nation roughly $140 billion last year alone, with much of the tab picked up by taxpayers.
Power plants are the single largest source of American carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for a third of the nation's total greenhouse gases. So focusing on power plants is key if emissions are to be reduced.
Coal currently supplies about 40 percent of American electricity, according to Energy Information Administration statistics, down from 50 percent in 2005. Coal's decline comes as natural gas from fracking (which has its own worrisome climate impacts, measured in methane rather than carbon dioxide), wind and solar, have risen in their share of the U.S. electric portfolio. Since the beginning of 2010, 145 coal-fired power plants announced plans to retire.
But the Department of Energy is focused not on retiring more of these plants, pinning its hopes instead on developing new technologies to make coal cleaner. The plan in rough form, involves collecting carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and burying it, forever, underground.
If that sounds like a heck of a challenge, that's because it is.
There's not a single large commercially-operating carbon sequestration plant anywhere in the world.
That's despite over $25 billion in government subsidies worldwide from 2008 to 2012.
Nevertheless, Mr. Moniz told Congress that “the Administration has already committed about $6 billion to [carbon capture and sequestration] demonstrations, and success of the forthcoming projects will be a critical step toward meeting the President's climate goals."
The $8 billion in total subsidies adds up to more than the wind and solar industries combined receive—and those are industries that have proven themselves to be commercially viable.
Undaunted, Moniz told The New York Times that CCS was a vital part of the country's climate change strategy. He called for CCS to be commercialized first for coal-fired power plants. He added that natural gas' carbon emissions, though half those of coal, are still too high to meet Obama's long-term goal of slashing emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050—so he called for the same speculative technology to resolve that problem as well.
The transition to an electric industry that captures its greenhouse gases instead of releasing them into the atmosphere makes the challenges associated with developing renewables like wind and solar look easy in comparison.
Professor Vaclav Smil, author of Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate has calculated that to sequester just a fifth of current carbon dioxide emissions:
"... we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build."
Carbon capture is also grossly inefficient. "By some estimates, 40 percent of the energy generated has to go to the carbon capture and sequestration process," Josh Galperin, associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said after the climate strategy was released. DeSmog's Kevin Grandia describes some further technical hurdles that carbon sequestration has yet to overcome.
In a key indication of how shaky the science is behind carbon sequestration, not even the World Bank will fund it. Concerns about climate change led the Bank to restrict its financial support for coal projects except in “rare circumstances," a draft strategy leaked to the press last week indicates. In a glaring omission, the strategy says nothing about carbon capture and sequestration as an alternative.
None of this seems to matter to Mr. Moniz, whose support of the coal industry and faith in sequestration has been longstanding.
A 2009 report he helped produce focused on how to reduce carbon dioxide from coal plants, touting the potential for so-called "clean coal."
"It's cheap," he told Scientific American when the report was released, "there's lots of it and there's lots of it in places with high demand, namely the U.S., China and India."
In 2007, Moniz co-authored an Massachusetts Institute of Technology report titled The Future of Coal that aimed to examine “how the world can continue to use coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel, in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis."
Moniz's faith in carbon sequestration has remained unshaken up to the present day.
"It's not going to happen tomorrow, but I believe in this decade we will have demonstrated the viability of large-scale storage" of carbon dioxide from industrial operations, he told the Associated Press recently. “The president made clear that we anticipate that coal and other fossil fuels are going to play a significant role for quite some time on the way to a very low carbon economy," he added.
Meanwhile, broader concerns about the President's climate plans remain.
“We're happy to see the president finally addressing climate change" said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, “but the plain truth is that what he's proposing isn't big enough, and doesn't move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis."
And if the clean coal technology Mr. Moniz is counting on doesn't pan out, prospects may be even dimmer.
Visit EcoWatch's CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
DO YOU THINK ERNEST MONIZ MAY HAVE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST IN THE HEAVILY SUBSIDIZED CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION INDUSTRY?
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As protests are taking place across our nation in response to the killing of George Floyd, we want to acknowledge the importance of this protest and the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the years, we've aimed to be sensitive and prioritize stories that highlight the intersection between racial and environmental injustice. From our years of covering the environment, we know that too often marginalized communities around the world are disproportionately affected by environmental crises.
- Lead Poisoning Reveals Environmental Racism in the US - EcoWatch ›
- First-of-Its-Kind Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air ... ›
- Pollution, Race and the Search for Justice - EcoWatch ›
By Peter Beech
Using waste food to farm insects as fish food and high-tech real-time water quality monitoring: innovations that could help change global aquaculture, were showcased at the World Economic Forum's Virtual Ocean Dialogues 2020.
Fly fishing. nextProtein
BiOceanOr's AquaREAL system. BiOceanOr
- Environmental Innovation Will Transform Business as Usual ... ›
- How an Army of Ocean Farmers Is Starting an Economic Revolution ... ›
The big three broadcast channels failed to cover the disproportionate impacts of extreme weather on low-income communities or communities of color during their primetime coverage of seven hurricanes and one tropical storm over three years, a Media Matters for America analysis revealed.
Researchers at the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly announced yesterday that it will start a trial on a new drug designed specifically for COVID-19, a milestone in the race to stop the infectious disease, according to STAT News.
- Dogs Can Smell COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Drugs Touted by Trump for COVID-19 Increase Heart Risks, Studies ... ›
- Coronavirus Vaccine Candidate Shows Promise in Mice - EcoWatch ›
The sixth mass extinction is here, and it's speeding up.
Terrestrial vertebrates on the brink (i.e., with 1,000 or fewer individuals) include species such as (A) Sumatran rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis; image credit: Rhett A. Butler [photographer]), (B) Clarion island wren (Troglodytes tanneri; image credit: Claudio Contreras Koob [photographer]), (C) Española Giant Tortoise (Chelonoidis hoodensis; image credit: G.C.), and (D) Harlequin frog (Atelopus varius; the population size of the species is unknown but it is estimated at less than 1,000; image credit: G.C.).
- Humanity 'Sleepwalking Towards the Edge of a Cliff': 60% of Earth's ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
- The Insect Apocalypse Is Coming: Here Are 5 Lessons We Must Learn ›
By Cathy Cassata
With more than 1.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 100,000 deaths from the virus, physicians face unprecedented challenges in their efforts to keep Americans safe.
They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
- WHO Declares Global Health Emergency as Coronavirus Cases ... ›
- Here's What We Know About Ibuprofen and COVID-19 - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Budget Plan: A Push for Even Greater Environmental ... ›
- Trump Pushed for Mining Project That Could Destroy Alaska Salmon ... ›