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A lovely lump of coal

By Alan Caruba
web posted December 8, 2003

According to tradition, if one has been a bad little boy or girl, Santa will leave a lump of coal in your stocking. The Greens targeted coal along with virtually every other source of energy as "dirty" and, frankly, the truth about coal needs to be told lest we forget what a bounty we have in this nation and how well it serves us all.

I am old enough to recall shoveling coal into a furnace to heat my home before we switched to natural gas. Back in the 1940s and 50s, many homes still relied on coal in this manner, but in another way coal is still a factor because electricity is required to operate today's furnaces and more than fifty percent of all electricity generated in America comes from utilities that use coal.

I was reminded of this when I read of a new War Between the States as nine have gone into court to challenge fourteen others who have allied to block new federal rules that relax stringent anti-pollution requirements for power plants, refineries, and manufacturers. The suit, filed by northeastern States, would stop the Environmental Protection Agency from implementing new Clean Air Act rules that make it easier for older plants to make upgrades without having to install more extensive and costly pollution controls. Could this be politically motivated? Twelve of the fourteen attorney generals are Democrats.

The nine States in opposition argue that failure to implement the new rules would increase the costs of enforcing air pollution cases, limit enforcement options, and frustrate industry's ability to make efficiency and other cost-saving improvements.

What most Americans don't know is that utilities and others that use coal have achieved the ability to eliminate most of the pollutants mandated in the 1970 Clean Air Act. Every single pollutant tracked by the EPA since 1970 has declined and much of the cleanup began before the EPA even existed.

SmokestackThese days, what one actually sees coming from "smokestacks" is steam! Surprised? The dark, sooty material called fly ash is removed by "precipitators" that eliminate 99.5 per cent of it. Coal contains sulfur which, when coal is burned, combines with oxygen to produce sulfur oxides. Beginning in the 1970s, "flue gas scrubbers" were introduced and they remove up to 95 per cent of the sulfur oxides before they go up the smokestack

None of this is cheap and the nine States fighting the fourteen others understandably do not want to get stuck with a bill for "improvements" that cost billions. This would be farcical if the money involved didn't include more than a $100 million for a single "scrubber", plus millions more to operate. Who pays for this? Consumers of electricity!

Right now there are more than 140 scrubbers installed and operating at US utilities with about fifty more planned. You do the arithmetic. Moreover, utilities have already spent $60 billion to control sulfur emissions that are down 18 per cent from their peak in 1973.

Other than the idiotic notion of wind-powered electricity which would require covering every square mile of the US with giant windmills to generate only a small percentage of what coal-operated utilities currently produce, Greens have never found any source of energy that really like. Some groups are actively trying to remove dams used to produce hydroelectricity and what is cleaner than water power?

So, when you know the truth, coal takes on a new luster. And the news just gets better. There is an estimated 250 to 300-year supply of coal in the United States. Even the dreaded coal ash is put to use as filler in tennis rackets, golf balls, and linoleum. More than two million acres of mined land has been reclaimed over the past two decades, an area larger than the State of Delaware.

For the Greens, however, enough is never enough. Since 1970, American industry has spent some $350 billion to clean the air and, each year, the tab for pollution controls totals another $33 million. Forcing industries and utilities to spend millions more for massive upgrades when they only need far less costly solutions makes no sense. That's why the new EPA rules need to be implemented despite the objections of the northeastern States.

According to the Electric Power Research Institute, pollution control equipment accounts for up to 40 per cent of the cost of a new power plant and 35 per cent of operational costs. These costs account for about $10 billion of the nation's electric bills each year and are expected to rise. Keep that in mind when you get your monthly energy bill because YOU are the one paying for all of this.

Another way Greens have found to force up costs is to put vast reserves of coal and other energy sources off-limits to use. Thanks to former President Clinton and his very Green Vice President, Albert Gore, the abundant coal reserves in Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante cannot be extracted. Clinton-Gore could not designate energy-rich areas of the nation fast enough, including Colorado's Canyon of the Ancients which has a high potential for oil and gas, Washington's Hanford Reach, and Montana's Upper Missouri River Breaks, where gas deposits are large.

The greatest "waste" of energy is to fail to use those resources within our own national borders. This is a deliberate effort to deny Americans access to their own energy and it is what environmentalism and Democrats are all about.

So, let the States battle it out in the courts regarding who has to spend billions to meet EPA clean air standards. It's not about clean air. It's about the Green agenda to drive up the costs of energy in every way possible.

Alan Caruba is the author of "Warning Signs" and his weekly commentaries are posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the Internet site of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba

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