An announcement today for plans to construct a $4 billion coal to liquid fuel facility in Kentucky is a sign of the desperate times America is in.
Converting coal to liquid fuel has not been used on a large scale since the 1930's when Nazi Germany developed the technology because the country had lots of coal but no petroleum of its own.
But the sell-job is well underway right now in Kentucky to re-frame coal to liquid as a miracle answer to America's energy woes.
One proponent of the Kentucky project went so far as to state that:
"(This) will allow the United States to become energy independent and free of foreign oil, and money going overseas can actually be invested back in the United States."
In the same vein is this quote from a local Kentucky newspaper:
The coal industry and its supporters say such efforts could help wean the nation from its reliance on foreign oil for transportation. They insist that the technology would strengthen national security and be cheaper than petroleum.
The United States currently burns through about 20 million barrels of oil a day. The Kentucky coal to liquid plant is projected to produce 50,000 barrels a day -- a far cry from the grand promise of energy independence. Pardon my rough math (and love of simply stated facts) but based on the coal to liquid model being proposed in Kentucky, we would need to build at least 120 such projects to produce 6 million barrels of oil a day -- at a start-up cost for all the plants of around $480 billion.
Doesn't look like much of a silver bullet to me.
And then there's the costs to our environment -- the one we'll passing on to our children.
No amount of words will make the processing of coal into a liquid fuel clean.
But that hasn't stopped Kentucky project cheerleaders, like Pike County Judge-Executive Wayne T. Rutherford from trying:
"Our goal is to not put anything out in the ozone," Rutherford said. "We know there is no concept in this world right now that does that, but there's a lot of research going on."
"... they are committed to having a plant that is as environmentally conscious as possible. They say they will choose a company that is also environmentally friendly."
Not much assurance when you consider that we have yet to be able to make regular-old coal-fired electric plants environmentally friendly. Now we are to somehow think that an even dirtier process like coal to liquid will somehow turn into a green, clean energy machine?
Beyond the obvious implications of increased mountaintop removal coal mining and hazardous pollution (like the ever-increasing amounts of mercury being pumped into the air) that would result from a coal-to-liquids scheme, using liquid coal as a transportation fuel would nearly double the amount of global warming pollution per gallon of fuel compared to petroleum.
At a time when the world's leading scientists say we need to cut our emissions by at least 80 percent to curtail destructive climate change, the idea of nearly doubling global warming pollution from liquid coal fuels ought to be tossed aside as a no-brainer.
As the folks at the Natural Resource Defense Council (turn your speakers down, an auto-play video starts when you click) point out, "it would be the height of folly to invest in just another technology that drives us further down the path to dependency on carbon fuels."
Kevin Grandia is the Managing Editor of the award-winning site, DeSmogBlog. He is also the managing editor of www.coal-is-dirty.com, a site managed in joint partnership with Greepeace USA and Rainforest Action Network.
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