Tuesday, January 27, 2009
English loses its meaning when Iowa, one of the most verdant states in the country, is a "brown" state and New Jersey, long synonymous with oil refineries, Superfund sites, and suburban sprawl that consumes massive amounts of energy, is "green," yet those are the terms assigned by the New York Times because the Hawkeye State generates 78% of its electricity from coal and the, er, Garden State uses coal for 18% (most of the rest is nuclear and natural gas).
The linked article describes a fault line within the Democratic Party between the coastal liberals who dominate the Obama administration's energized environmental team, dedicated to greenhouse gas regulation, and the old school donks from the manufacturing heartland, which is very dependant on coal. The latter suspect -- heck, they know -- that they will bear the brunt of the increased costs of the "cap and trade" scheme that will probably come out of Congress this year, and are none too happy about it.
Now, as a landowner in the Adirondacks who can no longer eat the fish because of mercury from coal burned in Ohio, I'm all for moving electricity generation from coal to other sources (especially in places west of the Adirondacks). It does seem to me, though, that any scheme that proposes to hammer on coal without providing a cost-effective substitute and a reasonable amount of time to adjust, which will almost certainly require a subsidy from outside the industrial midwest and political patience from the climate activists, is going to run into a lot of political trouble. The question, it seems to me, is whether the coastal "greens" be willing to subsidize the heartland "browns" and agree to a long transitional schedule in order to get rid of coal? If not, the Republicans will pick up a lot of midwestern seats in 2010.
And referring to midwesterners as "browns" is not going to help.
Blocking the construction of new, cleaner burning coal fired power plants is not the way to promote cleaner air. It simply means companies will cobble together the existing ("dirty") plants to keep them online longer.
One of the reasons the Adirondacks has been hit harder with the down wind pollutants is because of the way emissions were measured--a measure that was promoted by the greenies. Companies soon learned that building the stacks taller meant they recorded lower levels of emissions in the surrounding area. Unfortunately, that pushed the stuff into the upper air stream and further down wind.
I don't know whether the science on mercury tainted fish is sound or not. As the scare is being pushed by the likes of the NRDC and the Sierra Club, organizations with an agenda to kill coal fired power generation, you can color me skeptical. Some questions TH: 1) Have you had your fish tested for mercury or are you content to believe the enviromentalists? 2) As we have been burning coal for 170 years or so, did any of your ancestors contract mercury poisoning after consuming the fish? 3)Where are the multitudes of sick and dead people from eating mercury contaminated fish?
The real kicker is that here in Iowa, we are using coal fired power generation (primarily) to produce the "green" ethanol mandated by the U.S. government. How will we maintain our precious ethanol production without coal? Hmm...maybe I'll be able to afford tortilla chips again one day.
As the descendent of a midwest utility executive whose stellar career bogged down in endlessly explaining why he built three nuclear plants, I can only say I'm not sympathetic. In his case, the decision eventually contributed to the sale of the company to a larger, coal burning company that hadn't made the mistake of going nuclear and he spent his retirement years working on rate cases pro-bono for his former employer trying to recover some of the sunk costs.
And wasn't it obvious it was a mistake, he was frequently asked, since it was all done in the face of strong social (ie, Hollywood's) disapproval (see China Syndrome sometime for a good laugh), I can only say that the Adirondack environmentalists are getting what they deserve, or at least what they've asked for.
Anonymous at 11:34 am:
Would that be the Zimmer Nuclear plant that was built by CG & E in Moscow, Ohio?
When that was converted to a coal burner, it was the most expensive coal-fired plant in the country, until they did the same thing to a very expensive nuke plant on Long Island.
The mercury problem in stack gases is going to get fixed. And there is no economic substitute for all the gigawatts of electricity made by boiling water from coal in the near (30 year) future.
What a lot of frankly stupid political hokum. We will all pay dearly for this if they are serious.
So, allowing the US to use its' coal resources to create electricity is BAD, but China using its' coal resources is OK?
In a similar fashion, it's OK for France to generate electricty from nuclear reactors, but because we haven't built a new reactor here in the US for so long, that if US power utilities are ever ALLOWED to build another nuclear plant, we'll probably have to import much of the technology to run the plant?
This is what passes for a "sensible" energy plan?
What do the environmentialists believe will power their millions of hybrid or all-electric cars?
Don't EVEN get me started on mandated "ethanol" subsidies...or the lack of new oil refining capacity in the US!
I would prefer to question the stated assumption that airborn mercury in the Adirondacks is caused solely by stack emissions.
Much of the mercury in lakes is caused by organic decomposition in bogs along inlets. Naturally occurring mercury is released this way, and common deduction would cause one to question why all lakes do not have the same levels of toxicity. The common denominator in contaminated lakes/ponds is marsh.
Another question regards the methodology in sampling fish for mercury testing. How many fish are sampled, over what period of time, and how are they processed for testing? Ground up whole, organs, skin, and all? Or processed by filleting as a fisherman would do with the lateral fat line removed? I do not know but suspect the former. In any event, the sampling technique is shoddy and should not be relied upon.
I know of a popular adk. wilderness lake >1000 acres where only 5 bass constituted the sample, age not specified, where two had what was considerd high levels of mercury. This resulted in a "do not eat fish warning".
There is no doubt that there is an element of airborn mercury, but the hysteria is questionable since its originating source is Albany and various environmental groups who have self interest in perpetuating fearmongering.
I would like to see independent fish/lake testing before we make expensive policy decisions.