Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Candidates and Coal

My headline could easily apply to many races around the country, but let's talk about it in the context of the big kahuna: the presidential election.

Obama comes from Illinois of course, home to lots of "homegrown" deposits of coal. McCain is also friendly to "cleaner" types of coal options.

I want to see the candidates debate energy policy and global warming policy, and I especially want to hear their views on the coal conundrum. How will they appeal both to die-hard greens who say "NO" to coal in any form, but also appeal to those who see coal as part of our energy future (perhaps most Americans)? Not to mention the big-money energy companies that give to their campaigns?

According to, McCain has stated he'll commit $2 billion annually for the next 15 years to research and develop cleaner coal technology. Specifically, he supports carbon capture and storage, a process in which the carbon dioxide emissions from a coal plant are captured and stored underground. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a major contributor to the global warming problem, but this capture and storage technology is still very costly and experimental.

Obama talks about cleaner coal and includes it in his $150 billion energy plan. But he also favors a ban on building any more traditional coal plants that don't have the ability to capture and store the CO2.

Both candidates support
a cap-and-trade policy that puts a price on CO2 emissions.

I know many environmentalists who do not feel the intense animosity towards McCain's energy policies that they do towards Bush's. They seem to reflect the opinion of Environmental Defense Fund's attorney and senior policy advisor Scott Anderson:
We’re not champions of coal at EDF, but we are realists. Coal will be used to produce electricity for the foreseeable future, so we need technologies that allow coal to be used in a manner that avoids significant greenhouse gas emissions.”
And I think that's the end result we have to keep in mind. If the point is to cut emissions and slow global warming quickly - and there's a way to make coal an economical part of that mix - then that's ok. As long as we don't move backwards and build more old-fashioned, dirty coal plants and instead move forward with cutting emissions, we will need every resource and technology available to make that happen.

Photo credit: Getty Images

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