Coal? Eeewww.....

At a time when the world has kissed goodbye all the $50-per-barrel oil there ever was to be recovered (and probably the $60-per-barrel oil, too), what are politicians doing to ensure a steady supply of the energy we need to keep our world humming along?

Why, they’re doing the exact opposite – they’re getting in the way of ensuring a steady supply of energy.  And from the Washington Post, we find no clearer example than this:

A year after the nation appeared to be in the middle of a coal rush, widening alarm about greenhouse gas emissions has slowed the efforts of electric companies to build coal-fired power plants from hills of eastern Montana to southern Florida.

Recently, proponents of coal-fired power plants acquired a new foe: Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. In late July, Reid (D-Nev.) sent a letter to the chief executives of four power companies in which he vowed to "use every means at my disposal" to stop their plans to build three coal-fired plants in Nevada. Last month, after a speech in Reno, Reid said he was opposed to new coal-fired plants anywhere.

"There's not a coal-fired plant in America that's clean. They're all dirty," Reid told reporters after speaking at a conference on renewable energy. He said that the United States should turn to wind, solar and geothermal power in an effort to slow climate change. "Unless we do something quickly about global warming, we're in trouble," he said.

Brilliant, Harry.  Just brilliant.  Does he really believe that all the lights can be kept on (and all the water pumps kept operable in his parched but ever-growing state) without more coal-generated electricity?  Yes, solar, wind, and geothermal will be important pieces of the puzzle as time goes by.  But Reid seems bound and determined to turn away from the one source of energy that’s available domestically in plentiful supply.

And Reid is hardly alone.  Indeed, he only recently jumped on the bandwagon:

Reid's opposition to coal plants is the latest in a series of new obstacles for power companies seeking to use the fuel to generate electricity. A combination of rising construction costs, state mandates for the use of renewable energy and lawsuits by environmental organizations have forced many utilities to drop or postpone coal projects this summer.

In June, all four members of Florida's Public Service Commission — including two appointed by the new Republican governor — rejected an FPL Group proposal for coal plant near Lake Okeechobee. The following month, another of the state's utilities withdrew its application for a new coal-fired plant.

Gov. Charlie Crist said approvingly that the Public Service Commission "sent a very powerful message" and that the state "should look to solar and wind and nuclear as alternatives to the way we've generated power in the Sunshine State."

Ah, there’s the solar and wind thing again.  Only the governor, in contrast to Harry Reid, has substituted nuclear for geothermal in his clean-energy trifecta.  Whatever.

But don’t get me wrong.  On the other side of this issue, too many advocates of coal have their hands out, expecting government largesse to achieve their goals:

While the United States relies on coal to generate 50 percent of its electricity, rural electric cooperatives rely on coal for 80 percent of their power and many are planning new plants with the help of low-cost government loans. Despite calls for the federal government to scale back its aid through this Depression-era program, Congress is planning to sharply increase funding for the Rural Utilities Service… 

…[I]n July, environmental groups in Montana filed a lawsuit to stop the U.S. Agriculture Department's Rural Utilities Service from providing hundreds of millions of dollars in low-cost federal loans to a group of rural electric cooperatives seeking to build a coal-fired plant.

No one’s hands are clean in this fiasco.  No one’s asking whether it’s right for government to pick winners and losers when it comes to the ways we power our world.  And no one’s asking at what point in the future we no longer turn up our noses at coal.  So I’ll ask, and I’ll put in these stark terms:  Do we still turn up our noses at coal when oil reaches $100 a barrel? 

How about $150?


The sooner other people start asking these questions, the less likely it is we’ll find ourselves in the midst of a panic as oil prices march ever upward.