Government vs. coal industry on so-called "clean coal"

GAO-08-1080 Climate Change: Federal Actions Will Greatly Affect the Viability of Carbon Capture and Storage As a Key Mitigation Option

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has released a report on the status of policies advancing so-called ‘clean coal’.  The GAO basically puts the claims of coal industry front groups like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) in the trash where they belong.  You can keep score below, but a quick paraphrase of key observations from the government report:


We need to do something about global warming, coal plants are the largest source of global warming pollution, so-called ‘clean coal’ does not exist and won’t exist for at least a decade, nobody is working hard on it because there are no regulations on carbon dioxide, and even if we do figure it out in a decade it will be ridiculously expensive and could double or triple your energy bill.


Coal industry - Reducing carbon dioxide is important to us

GAO - Key scientific assessments have underscored the urgency of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the most significant greenhouse gas, to help mitigate the negative effects of climate change.


Coal industry - Coal plants are just one part of the problem

GAO - “In the United States, coal-fired power plants account for approximately one-third of total CO2 emissions.” 

*A chart in the report shows that coal plants are the single largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, more than the entire transportation sector combined. 


Coal industry - We have cleaned up coal in the past

GAO - “Moreover, according to a leading researcher, “in order for significant progress to be made in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, some form of mandatory emissions limits or tax on greenhouse gases will be required, just as in every other area of environmental regulation where substantial costs of emission reductions must be borne.””


Coal industry - We are working hard to clean up coal today

GAO - “Despite the importance of gaining this kind of experience with CO2 capture, CO2 capture has not been demonstrated on a large scale at a power plant in the United States or in any other country… For post-combustion CO2 capture, DOE officials indicated to us that the agency’s current goal is to develop, by 2012, pilot-scale systems to capture 90 percent of CO2 at no more than a 35 percent increase in the cost of electricity production. However, it is noteworthy that this goal is to develop pilot-scale systems only; commercial-scale units will not come online until the 2020 time frame.


Coal industry - We need clean coal before we pass stringent carbon regulations

GAO - “The majority of stakeholders we interviewed agreed, characterizing the absence of a national strategy to control CO2 emissions as a large or very large barrier to CCS deployment on a commercial scale, with many stating that without a price on emitting CO2, there is no rationale for utilities or other facilities to control their emissions… Moreover, according to key agency officials, the absence of a national strategy has also deterred their agencies from addressing other important practical issues, such as resolving how stored CO2 would be treated in a future CO2 emissions trading plan.”


Coal industry - Coal is cheap

GAO - “An IPCC assessment of several studies concluded that retrofitting a CO2 capture system to existing coal-fired power plants would increase the incremental cost of producing electricity from about 150 to 290 percent. Similarly, based on a study of a representative coal-fired plant in Ohio, DOE estimated that capturing 30 percent of a retrofitted plant’s CO2 emissions would increase its cost of electricity production by 2.3 cents per kilowatt-hour, while capturing 90 percent of the plant’s CO2 emissions would increase the cost of producing electricity by nearly 7 cents per kilowatt-hour.  For comparative purposes, the DOE’s Energy Information Administration reports that the average retail price of electricity in the United States is 8.9 cents per kilowatt hour.”

Suddenly reporters like Steve Mufson are sounding like Joseph Romm when they write about the myth of clean coal.  In his Energy Wire column this week, writing about what he calls an “oxymoron” that is “polluting the energy debate”, Mufson says: “But the truth is this: There is simply no such thing as clean coal. Prying it loose from the ground is a dirty business and burning it produces a variety of pollutants and greenhouse gases."