Thursday, April 9, 2009

No Free Lunch

My sister sent me a clipping from a wildlife federation that was more than critical of the sweeping ad campaign on the airways and in print. Power companies and energy companies are reminding us of our dependence on coal in America. Not to worry, because - although the fuel that comes out of the ground is black - it can be clean.
Yes, there is Clean Coal Technology in our future.

I rushed to the keys. I have been employed by two coal mining companies as a mining engineer. And administered research until retirement at an investor-owned electric power company. This letter was an invitation to dialog with family, now scattered across the globe - from Singapore to Bavaria.

Yes, I agree, I told her. Not clean coal, but "not-so-dirty coal." That's what the mining moguls and the energy entrepeneurs have in mind for us. Ever since the rebound of the coal industry in the late 1970s - I left metal mining to join this coal rush - the technology and the laboratories have been ready to work at the problems of underground explosion and collapse, destruction of mountain stream and farms, acid rain from sulphur and nitrogen oxide gases up the smokestacks.

But this was also the time of a revolution for "deregulation." The critical skills of overworked flight controllers had been organized into labor unions, and controllers had protested their working conditions to no avail. Bust unions. Deregulate the utilities and the markets. Cheap energy. Cheaper phones, plane tickets, and computers. Who would pay for new coal preparation plants, for scrubbers and filters on our stacks? Not the federal government that eliminated the Bureau of Mines.

Must have lower taxes. Looser rules, if any.

Today there are still corporate and university engineers and managers who can remove mercury and the sulphur and nitrogen oxides from the air around us. But it will require higher costs on the electric bill and higher taxes from state and federal lawmakers.

Deep down we know this. Volunteerism has failed. Pony up or choke on it.

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