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Clean Coal Conundrum

The term “clean coal” sounds paradoxical, but it is theoretically clean.Well, if “clean” means “not in the air”. Theoretically, coal can be “clean” in two different ways.

Carbon sequestration captures the emissions from burning coal before they exit through the smokestack, and stores them deep underground where they can’t escape. The technology isn’t available for carbon sequestration now, and likely won’t be for decades. Further, the process isn’t economically viable, but if it is a component of a clean energy policy, then its progress will accelerate from additional resources. The other way to have clean coal is to use what’s called a “scrubber”, which filters a portion of the coal’s air pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxide, and fine particles. However, the scrubbers don’t filter carbon dioxide, which is a problem when trying to combat rising greenhouse gas emissions.

So where does this leave clean coal and clean energy policies?

President Obama supports carbon sequestration technology, and would like to see progress toward further development. Additionally, carbon sequestration would fall within the guidelines of the EPA emission standards, which scrubbers fail to do. Mitt Romney supports scrubbers, and will do all he can to make it nearly impossible for the carbon sequestration technology to be developed. The EPA regulations will be erased, likely along with the EPA, so there will be no need for sequestration technology.

Instead of which process to use when attempting to have “clean coal”, perhaps the question should be whether to even use coal at all for an energy source. If it pollutes to the point of sickness, destroys the environment, is finite, and the best solution is to capture a portion of the pollutants and ignore the escaping carbon dioxide, maybe it shouldn’t be used.

In the future, when carbon sequestration is available and economically feasible, coal could certainly be a possibility for a clean energy policy. There are renewable energy solutions in existence now, and it would likely be more beneficial to put the focus on those and further developing the technologies.

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