Thursday, April 24, 2008

Coal lobby front group changes name -- still trying to destroy the Earth

The Center for American Progress is out today with an excellent analysis of where we stand in the fight against the coal industry. It's so perfect with so many wonderful links, that I quote the whole thing below. One of the factoids in their report caught my eye: Americans for Balanced Energy Choices has changed their name to American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. Now that may seem like a small change -- just like when Philip Morris changed their name to Altria (evoking images of philanthropy or a small Japanese car or something). But I think it's a pretty big poker tell. It tells us that progressive groups have so completely damaged the coal industry's brand, that they had to rename their front group. Which is pretty incredible when you remember that ABEC spends $35 million a year promoting their brand.

The coal folks are out with a new video too -- and it's so ripe for parody that I can't wait to get started on remaking it.

Also, if you are interested in tracking the PR fight against the coal industry, definitely check out: Desmogblog. They are doing fantastic work.

From today's Progress Report from the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

King Coal's Future

Coal-fired plants provide over 50 percent of the electricity in the United States and over 83 percent of the global-warming pollution from the power sector. A large coal-fired power plant emits the carbon dioxide equivalent of one million SUVs, and the United States has nearly 500 plants. Because power plants are a generational investment -- the average age of U.S. coal plants is 40 years -- the decision to construct new plants in a world at risk from global warming is monumental. NASA climatologist James Hansen argues that a "firm choice to halt building of coal-fired power plants that do not capture CO2 would be a major step toward solution of the global warming problem." In addition to the pressing issue of climate change -- exacerbated by the surge in coal-fired electricity in the developing world -- "the conventional coal fuel cycle is among the most destructive activities on earth." Coal is contaminated with toxic elements like mercury, arsenic, and lead that end up in the air, water, and soil. The costs of coal are disproportionately borne by the poor communities where it is mined and by children exposed to its pollution.

A GROWTH INDUSTRY: In the United States, "power companies have pushed to build more than 150 new coal-fired power plants." "European countries are slated to build about 50 coal-fired plants over the next five years." "China is completing two new coal plants per week." Since the rise of the Industrial Age, economic growth has been tied to increased electricity demand. Although the price of coal, like all other commodities, is rising to record levels, its economics are attractive to companies wary of the even greater price jump in natural gas, its primary fossil fuel competitor. But part of this drive to build new plants in the United States is driven not by demand, but by political calculus. The United States is poised to join Europe in placing mandatory limits on greenhouse emissions. Electric utilities hope they can successfully lobby for existing plants to be grandfathered into a new system of regulation, as they did in 1970 with the Clean Air Act, shifting the "significant financial and environmental risk" from the companies to everyone else.

THE POLITICAL BATTLE: Public opposition to coal plants due to their mercury, acid rain, smog, and carbon emissions has helped kill 60 coal plants in the past several years. Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), the $40 million coal-industry public relations effort, is no more. In recent months, youth, environment, and health activists exposed ABEC's efforts to attack green-collar jobs and propagandize coal. ABEC and the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED), the trade organization that started the front group, have now become the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). Writing for Grist, Sean Casten translates the retooled message of ACCCE: "We need to burn more coal. We need taxpayers to pay for the cost of that coal. And we've got enough money to make sure it happens." Jim Rogers, President and CEO of coal-heavy Duke Energy, an ACCCE member, has become one of the most prominent industry voices calling for the regulation of global warming pollution from power plants and other sectors of the economy. In making his case for action, Rogers includes a very important caveat: regulate greenhouse gases, but regulate in a way that ensures that the American taxpayer foots the bill for cleaning up the company's aging and high-emitting power plants. The European Union this week signaled it is willing to invest government dollars into finding a possible future for coal, "pushing forward proposals for a dozen demonstration projects" of coal plants with carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). CCS is still unproven but may be the "key enabling technology for a future in which we can continue to use our vast coal resources and also protect the climate."

ANOTHER PATH: If not hundreds of new coal plants a year, then what? Energy efficiency is the most powerful choice. A study this week by the electric utilities found that "energy efficiency improvements in the U.S. electric power sector could reduce the need for new electric generation by an additional 7 to 11 percent more than currently projected over the next two decades." McKinsey and Co. has found that improving energy efficiency could "offset some 85 percent of the projected incremental demand for electricity in 2030, largely negating the need for incremental coal-fired plants." Even with limited public investment, renewable technology is making dramatic gains. Wind turbines, once used primarily for farms and rural houses far from electrical service, are becoming more common in heavily populated residential areas as homeowners are attracted to ease of use, financial incentives, and low environmental effects. In addition to wind turbines and solar power, which can provide increasingly inexpensive but variable power, there is a host of renewable power sources that can be used for base-load electric capacity instead of a coal-fired plant. Solar thermal systems "gather heat from the sun, boil water into steam, spin a turbine and make power," like other solar thermal plants, and are designed to store the heat for hours or even days. Geothermal and tidal power are also available technologies. Although the challenge of transitioning away from coal-fired power is monumental, the first steps are clear.

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