Sunday, January 27, 2008

obama and coal

It's no secret that Illinois has a lot of coal:

Regional totals do not include refuse recovery
U.S. Total: 1,162.8 Million Short Tons (2.8%)

Figure ES1. Coal Production by Coal-Producing Region, 2006

Figure ES1. Coal Production by Coal-Producing Region, 2006
(Million Short Tons and Percent Change from 2005)
Source: Energy Information Administration, Annual Coal Report, 2006, DOE/EIA-0584(2006) (Washington, DC, October 2007).

It's also no secret that Barack Obama loves coal, and because of this love he has co-sponsored legislation to support projects focusing on the research and development of coal liquefaction. I don't have to explain why coal is bad, Obama says it in his energy plan:
"Develop and Deploy Clean Coal Technology: Coal is our nation’s most abundant energy source and is a critical component of economic development in China, India and other growing economies. Obama believes that the imperative to confront climate change requires that we prevent a new wave of traditional coal facilities in the U.S. and work aggressively to transfer low-carbon coal technologies around the world. In the U.S. Senate, Obama successfully increased funding by $200 million for carbon storage in the fiscal year 2008 budget resolution."

So, why is he promoting liquefied coal? Let's look at what's in the bill.

Official bill summary from :
The following summary is provided by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan government entity that serves Congress and is run by the Library of Congress. The summary is taken from the official website THOMAS.

Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Energy Act of 2007 - Amends the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to include among the projects eligible for Department of Energy (DOE) loan guarantees large-scale coal-to-liquid facilities that use a feedstock, the majority of which is domestic coal resources, to produce at least 10,000 barrels a day of liquid transportation fuel.

Instructs the Secretary of Energy (Secretary) to make loans for use by recipients to pay the federal share of the cost of obtaining any services necessary for the planning, permitting, and construction of coal-to-liquid facilities.

Directs the Secretary to promulgate regulations to support the development of coal-to-liquid manufacturing facilities and associated infrastructure on DOE and other federal lands, including military bases and military installations closed or realigned under the defense base closure and realignment.

Amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to direct the Secretaries of Energy and of Defense to study and report to Congress on the feasibility and suitability of maintaining coal-to-liquid products in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (Reserve).

Authorizes the Secretary to construct storage facilities in the vicinity of pipeline infrastructure and at least one military base.

Amends the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to authorize the Secretary to acquire, place in storage, transport, or exchange coal-to-liquid products in the Reserve.

Authorizes the use of certain funds by the Air Force Research Laboratory to continue support efforts to test, qualify, and procure synthetic fuels developed from coal for aviation jet use.

Amends federal law governing Armed Forces fuel procurement to authorize the Secretary of Defense to enter into agreements with private companies to develop and operate coal-to-liquid facilities on or near military installations.

Instructs the Secretary of Energy to implement a research and demonstration program to evaluate the emissions of the use of Fischer-Tropsch transportation fuel, including diesel and jet fuel.

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Everyone, including Barack Obama, knows using coal for anything without capturing and sequestering the carbon would produce enormous carbon emissions because burning coal emits more carbon than petroleum or natural gas. But climate change is not our only concern about energy as Barack makes clear in his plan: "Our nation is confronted by two major energy challenges - global climate change and our dependence on foreign oil - both of which stem from our current dependence on fossil fuels for energy." If you agree that energy independence is important, then you would agree that to run our economy today we need liquid fuels that are not derived from foreign sources. So liquefying coal solves this problem, for now. But what about the future? Coal is not a renewable energy source, so this can't be better than a band-aid. After our coal runs out, which may be a long time from now, we'll either have to obtain liquid fuels from foreign sources again or find some at home. So we can say that liquefied coal addresses Obama's second concern in the short term, but what about climate change? It only makes sense to liquefy coal to make a liquid transportation fuel, otherwise, say for electricity generation, you would just burn the coal as is. As far as I'm aware, no technology exists or is even proposed to capture and store carbon from a vehicle's tailpipe, and without this technology running your car or truck on liquefied coal would certainly emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

Liquefied coal makes sense for only one purpose: fueling our military. The bill Obama supports makes clear that this is one of the primary reasons for the bill. Our armed forces must have a domestically reliable and domestically produced source of liquid fuel if called to war. If Iran (or us) ends up doing something crazy, we'd better not rely on the Middle East for liquid fuels (not that we already do). But this is the only reasonable use for liquid coal and the bill vaguely states that we should research coal liquefaction for transportation, which is a very bad idea.

What's frightening is that apparently this is what we got for now. There's no way I should be reading about a coal-to-liquid bill until I read about congress throwing a ton of money at real, long-term and sustainable solutions to our energy problems. It's not like we've exhausted our options; this is like going to war before even looking for a political solution.

I searched Obama's energy plan for the words, "liquefied," "liquefy," "liquefaction," "liqu*" and found nothing. I find it a bit odd that Obama's plan for our energy future does not include his current plan for our energy future; He's trying to get energy legislation passed today as a Senator that apparently has nothing to do with the energy legislation he proposes to push as President. I watched the Democrat debate the other night and I don't remember one question about energy or climate change. If, for some reason, anyone starts talking seriously about these matters, I think Barack Obama should explain why he thinks coal liquefaction is a good idea.

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