Coal prices today are soaring. Recent flooding in Australia has hit the global, coking coal production essential to steel manufacturing. Australia supplies around two-thirds of the world's coking coal and 75% of its mines are now inundated. Other countries are scrambling to exploit the market demand.
When we think of coal we usually visualize massive smokestacks spewing CO2, sulfur compounds, arsenic, heavy metals and other toxins into the atmosphere. There's a big push on right now by Big Coal to spread the myth of "clean coal" processed through plants that capture the CO2 before it can be released, or at least most of it, although not those other toxins. Yet the environmental havoc wreaked by coal is massive long before it even gets to the power or steel plant.
A Canadian scientist and guest commentator at Brave New Climate has written an excellent piece entitled Government Intervention in Fossil Fuel Pollution that discusses the massive damage and contamination (some of it permanent) that results from coal production. It's bad enough that Big Coal isn't even trying to sugar coat it but prefers simply to ignore the issue altogether.
In case you're not familiar with it, Brave New Climate is a blog run by Australian scientist Barry Brook. He's a powerful advocate for fourth and fifth generation nuclear reactor power. A lot of Greens have some serious misconceptions about the nuclear option, many of them rooted in the anti-nuke movement of the 60s. I know, I was one of them. Yet the modern technology is very encouraging. Reactors that do not "enrich" their fuel. Reactors that actually use the "spent" fuel rods from conventional reactors or even weapons grade materials from scrapped arsenals as fuel. They can scavenge and consume what we otherwise have to conceal and bury and monitor for millenia.