Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Not-So-Green Democrats

The environmental community is pretty much resigned to having to wait until George w. Bush clears out of the White House before getting a US administration really committed to tackling global warming. Right now a Democratic candidate seems most likely to become the next US president and they all seem to get the GHG issue, right? Sorry, but no.

Take the Democratic frontrunners, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Surely they're green, right? There are some indications they're not. From The American Prospect:

"Last week, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton showed that despite efforts to build support with progressives suspicious of their close ties to corporate America, when it comes to real decisions and real votes, big business will often come first. This was reaffirmed when the two senators voted for an amendment to the energy bill offered by Montana Democrat Jon Tester that would have provided $200 million in grants and $10 billion in taxpayer loans for projects to turn regular old solid, black coal into new, shiny liquid coal to power cars and trucks. The coal companies love the idea, because replacing even 10 percent of gasoline with liquid coal would spur a 43 percent increase in coal mining, according to environmental groups. And proponents have tried to put coal liquefaction in the politically appealing framework of "energy independence" -- helping reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

"Alas, there are a few problems. At the top of the list is the fact that turning solid coal into liquid fuel requires massive inputs of energy. Indeed, liquid coal currently produces double the greenhouse gas emissions that regular gasoline does.

"... liquid coal backers had been peddling the argument that, with enough taxpayer subsidies, they could capture much of that dangerous carbon dioxide and bury it deep underground, keeping it safely out of the atmosphere for decades. "

"To answer critics who doubted the carbon sequestration promises, "[Montana Democrat Jon]Tester (a liquid coal backer) proposed his amendment requiring that any project that received taxpayer support had to produce at least 20 percent less global warming pollution than gasoline over the lifetime of the product, and initially capture at least 85 percent of the carbon dioxide.

"Faced with the possibility that they might actually have to live up to their promises, the Coal to Liquids Coalition (an unholy alliance between the coal industry and some elements of the AFL-CIO) suddenly changed its tune. In an about-face, the members opposed Tester's amendment, despite the subsidies windfall it promised. Rather than touting their ability to make liquid coal clean as they had in their Senate testimony, industry officials now said it would be unfair to require them to live up to the environmental standards they themselves had promoted.
"Imposing an unrealistic standard that specifically requires both a 20 percent lifecycle reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and an 85 percent capture of greenhouse gas emissions would all but end any chance America has of using CTL fuels to reverse our growing reliance on foreign energy," the Coal to Liquids coalition wrote to New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman.

"This was an admission that all their grand promises about the potential of "clean" coal -- including their testimony to the Finance subcommittee -- were just plain lies. Even with $10 billion in low-interest taxpayer loans, and $200 million in subsidies, they doubt their own ability to actually make coal clean. The switcharoo didn't bother pro-coal Republicans, however, who followed in lockstep with the industry and voted against the Tester amendment.

"In contrast, all the other major Democratic presidential candidates are on record opposing liquid coal subsidies. A spokesman for John Edwards, for example, explained the candidate's opposition to liquid coal: "He believes that federal resources should support research into clean renewable energy." This is an important point. The cost of reducing greenhouse gases from carbon-rich coal will always greatly exceed that of producing that energy from sources that are clean to start with, like wind and solar power.

No comments: