The Vine

Coal: The Other White Meat?


The Economist warns us this week
that coal is going to become an increasingly tempting energy substitute as oil
prices continue to hit new records. Why? Because the alternatives to
coal--natural gas, fuel oil, and diesel--are all tied to oil. Coal remains America’s
most abundant energy resource, and the growing call for the country to assert
its energy independence

only stands to strengthen the coal lobby.


While McCain touted
the development of “clean” coal technology
this week, others are skeptical
about our ability to mitigate the filthy outputs of coal-burning, worrying that
the science will lag behind the rally to increase coal exploration and
consumption. With rare exceptions,
the Democrats also haven’t done much to stand down Big Coal. In 2006, Obama
helped re-introduce
a controversial plan
to promote liquefied coal as an alternative fuel
for motor vehicles--a fuel that would be far dirtier burning oil. Though he has
since qualified his stance, Obama has continued to make coal-friendly appeals
while campaigning in King Coal states.


In the meantime, other leading Dems have continued to
green-light projects that have yet to meet any kind of rigorous “clean coal”
standards. Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine has thrown his support behind
a new coal-fired electrical plant, which is set to advance after being approved
by the state’s Air Pollution Control Board on Wednesday. Despite a 2007 Supreme Court ruling
that ordered the EPA to treat the gas as a pollutant, the regulatory board
declined to place any limits on carbon dioxide emissions. (The plant is
expected to emit
5.3 million tons of CO2 per year.) In addition to meeting Virginia’s energy needs,
officials hope
that the plant will revitalize
the remote, economically depressed region,
adding some 800 jobs in the area.


But if this is the kind of project that’s supposed to amp up
our ailing economy, what’s next? A throwback to the good ole days of the
Industrial Revolution, when coal-powered manufacturing plants didn’t have to
deal with pesky regulatory standards? With folks already hyping the potential
return of American manufacturing
, I worry about the reactionary,
pollutant-enabling policies that might accompany such nostalgic pipe dreams. As
Brad describes,
the country’s growing ranks of anti-coal activists are already preparing for
the fight.


--Suzy Khimm

Suzy Khimm is a senior editor at The New Republic.

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