Sunday, December 7, 2014

Dirty Coal, Dirty Politics

                The dirtiest U.S. coal is becoming the most popular, according to a report from the Bloomberg News. It is, ironically, thanks to tightening emission standards forcing power plants to reduce pollutants. ‘Dirty’ coal has a greater sulfur content and  is found in great quantities in the Illinois Basin. Coal of this type costs less and/or has a higher heat ‘content’.
                Illinois sports the second largest coal reserves in the United States- 104 billion tons- enough to power the country for 163 years at 2014 consumption levels. (Remember ‘the Energy Crisis’? It was a crisis of confidence, creativity and diligence).
                Dirtier coal such as the Illinois Basin’s was left mostly unused after the expansion of the Clean Air Act and limits placed on sulfur dioxide emissions. Utilities then began to install scrubbers to remove the contaminants…or just closed down, as many did. Yet another rule, the ‘Mercury and Air Toxics Standards’, will take effect next year, again forcing coal-fired power plants to comply or go out of business. According to some energy consultants, by the end of this decade 67 gigawatts of coal fired electricity will have been closed down in compliance with the mercury rule. One gigawatt is enough to power 708,400 U.S. households, according to Energy Department data. Do the math. Staggering.
                It is estimated that 100% of U.S. coal plants will have sulfur dioxide removing scrubbers by 2025.
                Under the Obama administration’s new rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions, coal’s share of the country’s power generation will fall to 33% in 2020 and 30% in 2030, compared with what would have been an increase to 41% under existing rules, per EPA figures. Imagine the energy we could produce- and the resultant economic expansion and job creation that would ensue because of lower energy prices- if we didn’t place such an incredible burden on all aspects of our extraction and energy industry!
                Yet, with all the requisite scrubbers installed, any remaining U.S. coal-fired plants will be keen to utilize the cheaper, hotter, dirtier coal.
                Illinois. Renowned for dirty coal and dirty politicians. It seems they both come out on top in the end.


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