Sunday, March 23, 2008

Air Force to get into the syngas business?

Following up on King's entry on Section 526 of the Energy and Independence Act of 2007, it isn't surprising to see that the Air Force is looking for any domestic means necessary in assuring energy independence and security for our armed forces.

The AP reports:
The Air Force wants to build at its Malmstrom base in central Montana the first piece of what it hopes will be a nationwide network of facilities that would convert domestic coal into cleaner-burning synthetic fuel.

Air Force officials said the plants could help neutralize a national security threat by tapping into the country's abundant coal reserves. And by offering itself as a partner in the Malmstrom plant, the Air Force hopes to prod Wall Street investors - nervous over coal's role in climate change - to sink money into similar plants nationwide.

"We're going to be burning fossil fuels for a long time, and there's three times as much coal in the ground as there are oil reserves," said Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson. "Guess what? We're going to burn coal."

It's difficult to gauge how serious a threat or promise to the environment this will prove to be. Given governors' opposition to new coal power plant construction (as noted below with Kathleen Sebelius blocking new plants in Kansas), and Governor Brian Schweitzer's firm pro-green stances, the Air Force's idea may prove a pipe dream. Congressional leaders (including Henry Waxman) are opposed to the construction of any coal-to-liquids plants that lack carbon sequestration technology from the outset. While getting the private sector to do the heavy lifting gets around the problem of Congressional approval, Congress could always turn around and institute a full lifecycle requirement for the overall carbon content of a fuel or other restrictions that limit the Air Force's ability to use such fuels. (Congress won't, of course -- they like winning elections, and looking soft on national security is a sure way to lose -- but they could well bluff, and that bluff could help delay the plan until carbon-capture methods are implementable.) The Air Force maintains that any steps to limit domestic reliance on foreign fuels are justified on national security grounds, but as we've seen in this class, there are larger climate change concerns to be addressed.

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