FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama’s Green Coal

by JOSHUA FRANK

It was at the onset of the Nazi era that coal-to-liquid technology came to the forefront of modern energy science. In the latter part of the 1920s, German researchers Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch developed the initial processes to liquify the dark rock into fuel. The procedure was utilized throughout World War II by both Germany and Japan. In fact, coal-to-liquid technology largely fueled Hitler’s bloody campaigns, as Germany had little petroleum reserves but held vast amounts of coal deposits throughout the country. Not too unlike the United States’ fossil fuel status today.

By 1930 Fischer and Tropsch had applied for several U.S. patents, but it wasn’t until earlier this summer that the first U.S. coal-to-liquid plant had been slated to be constructed in West Virginia. But while liquid coal may help replace petroleum based fossil fuels, it is certainly not an answer to climate change.

“The total emissions rate for oil and gas fuels is about 27 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon, counting both production and use,” states the Natural Resource Defense Council. “[T]he estimated total emissions from coal-derived fuel is more like 50 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon — nearly twice as much.”

The price of oil per barrel has risen dramatically in the past year, and the U.S.’s dependency on foreign crude has become less stable as tensions in the Middle East have escalated with the ongoing war in Iraq and the potential confrontation with Iran. The major presidential candidates have laid out their plan of attack to dealing with the crisis, echoing many old solutions to our 21st century environmental troubles.

Sen. John McCain, for example, wants to drill off the coast of California, build dozens of nuclear plants from Oregon to Florida, and slightly increase fuel efficiency of automobiles. Similarly, Sen. Barack Obama supports an array of neoliberal strategies to deal with the country’s volatile energy situation. He is not opposed to the prospect of nuclear power, endorses capping-and-trading the coal industry’s pollution output, and supports liquefied coal.

Well, that’s a maybe on the latter.

“Senator Obama supports … investing in technology that could make coal a clean-burning source of energy,” Obama stated an email sent out by his campaign in June 2007. “However, unless and until this technology is perfected, Senator Obama will not support the development of any coal-to-liquid fuels unless they emit at least 20 percent less life-cycle carbon than conventional fuels.”

You did not just read a lofty proclamation from a change agent, but a well-crafted rationale meant to appease green voters. Meanwhile, back in the Senate, Obama’s record relays a much different position on the subject.

It was only six months before the aforementioned email that Republican Senator Jim Bunning and Obama introduced the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007. The bill, introduced in January 2007, was referred to the Senate committee on finance and, if passed, would ultimately amend the Energy Policy Act of 2005 as well as the Energy Policy and Conservation Act to evaluate the feasibility of including coal-to-oil fuels in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and provide incentives for research and plant construction.
Shortly after the introduction of the bill, Tommy Vietor, Obama’s spokesman, defended the senator’s proposal, “Illinois basin coal has more untapped energy potential than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Senator Obama believes it is crucial that we invest in technologies to use these resources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.”
Has Obama had a change of heart, or has he just flip-flopped around like a suffocating fish for political leverage? The answer to that question may reside along the nuanced path we are getting all too used to seeing candidate Obama traverse these days. As his campaign website reads:

“Obama will significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies. Obama will consider whatever policy tools are necessary, including standards that ban new traditional coal facilities, to ensure that we move quickly to commercialize and deploy low carbon coal technology.”

The apartheid government of South Africa was the first to use liquid coal for motor vehicles, and it seems, despite the “low carbon coal” rhetoric, that Obama may be poised to carry on the dirty legacy of liquid coal. Sen. McCain, for what’s its worth, has also announced support for “clean coal” technology.

The move from foreign oil to locally mined coal, “low carbon” or otherwise (no coal energy has zero carbon emissions), would only change the dynamics of the U.S.’s massive energy consumption, not its habits, which is at the heart of our current energy woes.

As a result of our consumptive lifestyles, the mountaintops of Appalachia, from Tennessee up to the heart of West Virginia, are being ravaged by the coal industry — an industry that cares little about the welfare of people or the land that it is adversely affecting with its mining operations.

The debris from the holes, often 500 feet deep, produce toxic debris that is then dumped in nearby valleys, polluting rivers and poisoning local communities downstream. There has been little to no oversight of the wholesale destruction of these mountains and Obama and McCain have not addressed the ruin in any of their bullet point policy papers on “clean coal.” No state or federal agencies are tracking the cumulative effect of the aptly named “mountaintop removal,” where entire peaks are being blown apart, only to expose tiny seams of the black rock.

Any “clean coal” technology, whether it be liquidification or otherwise, would surely rely on the continuation of such brutal methods of extraction, and carbon output would still be significant. Like his Republican opponent, Obama has stayed silent on the issue of mountaintop removal. McCain’s ignorance may be for a reason, however, as the presumptive Republican nominee has received over $49,000 from the coal industry this election cycle compared to Obama’s meager $12,000, which makes Obama’s green coal embrace all the more bewildering.

Sen. Obama may receive high marks from the League of Conservation Voters and be touted by the Sierra Club for being marginally better than John McCain on the environment, but when it comes to his position on the U.S.’s coal extracting future, the senator’s position is not only wrong, it is absolutely disastrous.

JOSHUA FRANK is co-editor of Dissident Voice and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of the brand new book Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, published by AK Press in July 2008.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

Weekend Edition
February 16, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
American Carnage
Paul Street
Michael Wolff, Class Rule, and the Madness of King Don
Andrew Levine
Had Hillary Won: What Now?
David Rosen
Donald Trump’s Pathetic Sex Life
Susan Roberts
Are Modern Cities Sustainable?
Joyce Nelson
Canada vs. Venezuela: Have the Koch Brothers Captured Canada’s Left?
Geoff Dutton
America Loves Islamic Terrorists (Abroad): ISIS as Proxy US Mercenaries
Mike Whitney
The Obnoxious Pence Shows Why Korea Must End US Occupation
Joseph Natoli
In the Post-Truth Classroom
John Eskow
One More Slaughter, One More Piece of Evidence: Racism is a Terminal Mental Disease
John W. Whitehead
War Spending Will Bankrupt America
Dave Lindorff
Trump’s Latest Insulting Proposal: Converting SNAP into a Canned Goods Distribution Program
Robert Fantina
Guns, Violence and the United States
Robert Hunziker
Global Warming Zaps Oxygen
John Laforge
$1.74 Trillion for H-bomb Profiteers and “Fake” Cleanups
CJ Hopkins
The War on Dissent: the Specter of Divisiveness
Peter A. Coclanis
Chipotle Bell
Anders Sandström – Joona-Hermanni Mäkinen
Ways Forward for the Left
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Winning Hearts and Minds
Tommy Raskin
Syrian Quicksand
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Still Tries to Push Dangerous Drug Class
Jill Richardson
The Attorney General Thinks Aspirin Helps Severe Pain – He’s Wrong
Mike Miller
Herb March: a Legend Deserved
Ann Garrison
If the Democrats Were Decent
Renee Parsons
The Times, They are a-Changing
Howard Gregory
The Democrats Must Campaign to End Trickle-Down Economics
Sean Keller
Agriculture and Autonomy in the Middle East
Ron Jacobs
Re-Visiting Gonzo
Eileen Appelbaum
Rapid Job Growth, More Education Fail to Translate into Higher Wages for Health Care Workers
Ralph Nader
Shernoff, Bidart, and Echeverria—Wide-Ranging Lawyers for the People
Chris Zinda
The Meaning of Virginia Park
Robert Koehler
War and Poverty: A Compromise with Hell
Mike Bader – Mike Garrity
Senator Tester Must Stop Playing Politics With Public Lands
Kenneth Culton
No Time for Olympic Inspired Nationalism
Graham Peebles
Ethiopia: Final Days of the Regime
Irene Tung – Teófilo Reyes
Tips are for Servers Not CEOs
Randy Shields
Yahoomans in Paradise – This is L.A. to Me
Thomas Knapp
No Huawei! US Spy Chiefs Reverse Course on Phone Spying
Mel Gurtov
Was There Really a Breakthrough in US-North Korea Relations?
David Swanson
Witness Out of Palestine
Binoy Kampmark
George Brandis, the Rule of Law and Populism
Dean Baker
The Washington Post’s Long-Running Attack on Unions
Andrew Stewart
Providence Public School Teachers Fight Back at City Hall
Stephen Cooper
Majestic Meditations with Jesse Royal: the Interview
David Yearsley
Olympic Music
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail