| I have to hand it to George Ochenski, he pretty much summed up the Good Guv's coal-to-gas scheme perfectly. This is a topic I've been wanting to write about since the end of the legislative session, but Ochenski beat me to it.
Quite correctly, Ochenksi recognizes that the scheme is dependent on "carbon sequestration" -- a process that's mostly theoretical -- and possibly billions in taxpayer dollars. That is, it's dirty, risky, and expensive.
It's hard to see this scheme as anything other than a badly-thought-out environmentally-unfriendly government handout to Big Energy.
It would be hard to forget the rap we've been getting almost nonstop from our governor's office for more than a year now. Basically it's that "we are the Saudi Arabia of coal," and, by golly, we can make America energy-independent of "the sheiks, crooks and dictators" from whom we import oil to support our gross consumption habits simply by building enormous plants to turn dirty black coal into clean liquid fuels. Moreover, this will be good for the environment because the carbon dioxide that makes coal such a threat to the global environment can theoretically be captured, compressed under enormous pressure, and injected into the ground where it will sit complacently long into the future. So we are told.
This rosy scenario is further bolstered with the trotting out of dubious analyses showing billions in economic development, thousands of new jobs, millions in new tax receipts, and-this is the best one-Montana showcasing, and then selling, wonderful clean new coal technologies to the rest of the world (China and India, to be specific).
The Boston Globe editorial Ochenski quotes - "No subsidy for a filthy fuel" - goes into the issue in starker terms. According to the Globe, to build the plants necessary to generate the gasoline to replace just 10 percent of our national consumption would cost $70 billion.
All of this largess, though, would replace gasoline with a fuel that would generate about twice the carbon dioxide emissions of gasoline. Even if the plants were built so that their carbon dioxide emissions could be captured and then stored underground, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that liquefied coal would still emit about 4 percent more carbon dioxide than gasoline.
The United States has immense coal reserves -- enough to make it the Saudi Arabia of this fossil fuel -- so proposals for liquefied coal have become the unkillable Draculas of US energy policy....
The Globe thinks a better use for coal-to-gas is to replace conventional coal in power plants.
The Billings Gazette recently published a report from environmental groups that decried Congressional buzz over the promotion of gassified coal and extracting tar sand and oil shale.
Tar sand is mined extensively in Canada and is found in Utah. The region where Wyoming, Colorado and Utah come together is one of the richest sources of oil shale in the world. Coal is mined in Appalachia and across the West.
Mining all three would produce dangerous greenhouse gases, scar the land, suck up water and hurt wildlife habitat, the report says.
Industry also hasn't proven that oil shale and liquid coal can be produced commercially yet, according to the report.
"There's no question we need to reduce our dependence on oil, but this is the worst possible way to go about it," Lovaas said.
Unfortunately, as Kossak Jerome a Paris demonstrates, big business is hustling down the path of producing more energy with coal, despite the obvious health and environmental impacts that accompanies that energy source, because they are "cheap":
Of course, these plants are cheaper to run for one simple reason: they do not have to pay for all their externalities - pollution, global warming and removed mountain tops are not properly accounted for and the cost is certainly not borne by the coal-burning plant....it is "cheap" because its cost is not paid in dollars but in lives and in damage to the environment and our living conditions.
I'm not sure why we keep coming back to fossil fuels when we consider way to replace oil. I've written this before, but there are better, cheaper, and healthier ways to wrestle with our energy demons. Reorganizing our food supply system, for example, which can be done with good trade legislation and tax incentives. Or using tax incentives and government loans to improve insulation in homes. Or to increase fuel consumption standards in autos. Or promote solar energy.
The only problem with those solutions - all currently feasible and reasonably priced, by the way - is that they reduce consumption. That is, they'd save all of us a lot of money. Which, of course, costs certain industries their profit. In the end, it seems that the "serious" energy proposals batted around by "serious" people all circle around preserving profits for the same group of multinational corporations that currently control our energy supplies.
The big problem here in Montana is that Governor Schweitzer's coal-to-gas plan is brilliant politically. It has the rousing support of Eastern Montana communities, which can only thrive economically as the federal tax dollars start pouring into their side of the state in the form of jobs and infrastructure. It'll be boom times for those towns lagging economically behind the western side of the state, and Schweitzer will naturally win allies in areas historically hostile to Democrats. He's already riding 60-percent approval ratings; a landslide is ensured if he can win even tepid support in the east.
And if Schweitzer is planning on other offices after his Governorship - there is that site, after all - the Good Guv is also making a lot of friends with deep pockets who have investments in the now inert coal fields in the southeastern part of the state.
I'm not advocating abandoning ambitious energy plans here in Montana. Quite the reverse. I think now is the time for bold proposals. Like, say, aiming to remove every Montana household from the energy grid by 2050...