Thursday, January 27, 2011

Environmental bullshit

Bullshit and blather. That's what it is. Bullshit and blather masquerading as an environmentally-sound energy policy. And oh how I bet it's giving the Obamabots an Obamagasm.
Facing a Congress that is more hostile to environmental regulation, President Barack Obama is moderating his environmental goals: a clean energy standard that mixes nuclear, natural gas and "clean coal" with renewable sources such as wind and solar.

In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, Obama called for 80 percent of the nation's electricity to come from clean sources by 2035.
Yes! Eighty percent clean in 25 years! Ladies and gentlemen, it's the Amazing Mr. O!

And how is he going to do that? By, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu essentially admitted, simply changing what is meant by "clean." In Chu's words, what constitutes "clean" energy "depends on how you define it." Obama will do it, that is, by bullshit and blather.

I'd wager that when most people think of "clean energy," they think of things like solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower. But oh, no, now that's what, old school? Now it's more nukes! More natural gas! More "clean coal!"

More bullshit and blather!

Natural gas is very likely the least dirty of the fossil fuels, but it is still a fossil fuel, it still taints water supplies in the course of production, and it is not "clean" in the (until now) normally-understood sense of the term.

And nukes? Do we still have to argue about nukes? When, contrary to industry lies, there is still no safe, reliable means for disposal of the waste? (Even the World Nuclear Association, an international trade group, can only bring itself to claim that methods for long-term disposal "are currently being developed.") When, contrary to industry and politician lies, it is still no answer to global warming? When the entire damn industry still would not be economically viable but for government largesse?

What's more, contrary to the fanciful visions of some who should know better, nuclear power is not and will not be a "partner" to developing renewable energy and energy efficiency. Rather, according to a study from last fall, investment in an expansion of nuclear power will crowd out investment in renewables and actual clean energy, making matters worse, not better.

And "clean coal?" Oh my nonexistent lord have mercy, "clean coal?" Are we - is anybody - still talking about the chimera, the industry shibboleth, of "clean coal?" Really? Seriously?

First, recall that coal is most commonly mined now by a process known as MTM/VF, for "mountain top mining with valley fill." Simply put, you blast away the top of the mountain, dig out the coal that's exposed, and dump the debris over the side, there to fill the valley and often to clog up the streams or rivers running through it.

Okay. Two years ago, in the wake of the failure of a retaining pond that resulted in 500 million gallons of coal ash sludge being dumped on Harriman, Tennessee, that hotbed of radical leftwing rhetoric, "Time" magazine, had an article titled "Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power" which concluded
coal can be cheap or it can be (somewhat) clean. But the sea of ash in Tennessee shows it can't both.
Right around the same time, Fred Pearce, the environmental columnist for The Guardian (UK), who often bends over backwards to find a way to say "the critics of environmentalists have a point" in order to appear reasonable (aka Serious), called "clean coal" a case of "utter greenwash" - that is, just industry PR crap.

Even Popular Mechanics piped in:
There's just one problem with this [clean coal] scenario: Coal will never be clean.
It can be less dirty, but it will never be clean.

Then about one year ago, a study published in the journal "Science" of the environmental and health impacts of large-scale coal production revealed “serious environmental impacts that mitigation practices cannot successfully address.”
[W]e conclude that MTM/VF permits should not be granted unless new methods can be subjected to rigorous peer review and shown to remedy these problems.
Which still leaves the other side of coal, when it is burned at power plants to generate electricity, generating huge piles of coal ash in the process. But meanwhile, to hear the industry tell it, through the miracle of CCS (for "carbon capture and storage" or "carbon capture and sequestration"), the coal is magically made clean, green, and pristine! It's bullshit and blather.

CCS involves forcing gases from the combustion of the coal through a liquid that captures the released carbon dioxide. That gas is then separated, piped to a sequestration site, and injected into underground reservoirs. It is a unproven technology whose one and only commercial-level project, located at Weyburn, Saskatchewan, is under challenge as leaking CO2. It also will quite possibly never become economically viable at industrial scales because of the large cost of the separation equipment and of all the new pipelines that would have to be laid to carry the CO2 to the sequestration sites.

That is what President Hopey-Changey, who spoke just a couple of weeks after the release of "Dirty Business," the new documentary about "clean coal," and who, by the way, did not even mention, not even in passing, global warming, is describing as "clean" energy. Bullshit and blather. Bullshit and blather.

In response to the SOTU,
[Bob] Deans [of the Natural Resources Defense Council] called clean coal an oxymoron and said the government should not be subsidizing nuclear power, because of concerns over waste and nuclear proliferation.

"Coal, nuclear power, biofuels and natural gas are inherently dirty," said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth. "Telling Americans anything else is just misleading."
But since being misleading is the only way a corporate energy policy of nukes, natural gas, and coal can be sold to the public, don't expect the bullshit and blather to stop.

Footnote: Something from the linked AP article that kinda did piss me off, not like the above but just was irritating, was this:
Chu called the new proposal "a recognition that solutions can be different in different parts of the United States, but ... this is the goal we're looking for and depending on the region, you have different options of getting to that eventual goal."

The administration's plan has echoes of the GOP's "all of the above" approach to energy.

"Let's not pick just wind or solar, let's pick everything," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters Thursday. "Let's do all of it."
Over 30 fucking years ago I proposed an energy policy specifically to promote and maximize the use of renewable, environmentally-sound energy sources. I called it "No One Answer." It was based on the idea that no renewable source was useful everywhere, but everywhere some form of renewable was useful, so different types should be promoted in different areas. Thirty years later, at least some part of the political establishment has recognized that concept, even calls it pretty much the same thing, only to twist it into a stalking horse for more mining, more drilling, and more radioactive waste.

Damn.

4 comments:

JM said...

Doesn't help that Sierra Club supports Natural Gas:
http://www2.prnewswire.com/cgi-bin/stories.pl?ACCT=109&STORY=/www/story/03-04-2008/0004767903&EDATE=

http://www.thenation.com/article/wrong-kind-green

LarryE said...

Supports natural gas: True, with a touch of "but" added. The link says of the Sierra Club that

[i]t still favors renewable fuels - solar and wind - more than fossil fuels, but among fossil fuels, it favors natural gas, Pope says.

"Among the fossil fuels, natural gas is at the top," says Pope....


That last statement is true - although I would call it the least bad rather than "at the top." Being the least dirty fossil fuel means it's preferable to coal or oil but it doesn't mean it's a good choice.

I remember The Nation article from when it first came out. The Nature Conservancy in particular has long been notorious for letting their name be used for greenwashing in exchange for corporate contributions.

The "big" environmental groups have come more and more to regard their marginal access to power as a substitute for the kinds of actions that got them to that point in the first place and so have become more and more subject to the blandishments of that world, much the same fate which has befallen a good portion of "progressive" politics. I've come to think of them like Wikipedia: useful at times but must be approached with caution.

JM said...

And speak of the devil, there's this about Natural conservancy:
http://thesietch.org/mysietch/keith/2011/01/27/nature-conservancy-embrace-dow-chemical-business-model/

Honestly, even if they have tiny, tiny flaws, we're better off puttin our faith in Greenpeace.

JM said...

Okay, one more to make our hearts sink, guy's not totally reliable with the arguments though:
http://www.stateofnature.org/savingTrees.html

Funny he mentions sierra club as racist because I came across a letter from them on Nader's citizen.org that denounced Columbia's unfair treatment of indigenous people in the name of environmental protection. But I dunno if that's a mystery solved or not. Sorry for yammering.

 
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