Cleaner Liquid Coal?

Bill Scher

This morning, the Senate is continuing to debate on the floor renewable energy standards for electricity, but according to Environment & Energy Daily (subscription required), much maneuvering is happening off the floor about liquid coal.

E&ED reports that:

Development of the proposal was fluid yesterday, several aides said. One Senate aide familiar with the talks said the program would provide loans for carbon capture and sequestration equipment at coal-to-liquids plants, with a cap of $10 billion.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) told reporters yesterday he may be willing to accept a coal-based fuels provision. Asked what needs to be in the measure to win his backing, Bingaman replied: “Sufficient environmental safeguards that we can feel comfortable it does not add to any greenhouse gas problem.”

Industry and labor supporters of building CTL plants say that if performance requirements are too stringent, then plants will not get built…

…the [Coal-To-Liquids Coalition] warns against a standard that has been discussed that would require lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions that are 20 percent lower than petroleum products and capture 85 percent of carbon emissions at CTL refineries.

That “20 percent” standard, ensuring that liquid coal would not contribute more to global warming than petroleum gas, was pushed by Sen. Barack Obama earlier this week. Obama had been considered a firm supporter of liquid coal, but that move indicated a shift away.

Environmental bloggers, like Gristmill’s David Roberts and Island of Doubt, rightly note that even a cleaner liquid coal would not be the best energy bang for the $10 billion bucks.

And liquid coal backers are opposing the 20% standard because it might make the technology too expensive for even the $10 billion to get the industry off the ground.

Doing anything that makes global warming worse has to be a non-starter. If liquid coal can’t be significantly cleaner than our current fuel, there’s no point in doing it.

And though 20% cleaner liquid coal may not be the ideal use of dollars, if it’s part of an otherwise good bill (and we don’t know if that’s the case yet), it shouldn’t be a deal killer.

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