Chu Touts Clean Coal to West Virginians

Published October 4, 2010

Coal will remain an important part of the U.S. energy mix, and clean coal technologies will “save coal” under global warming carbon dioxide restrictions, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu told a community forum in Charleston, West Virginia. Chu’s assertions were particularly noteworthy because he has referred to coal as his “worst nightmare” and many environmental activist groups, including those associated with former vice president Al Gore, insist there is “no such thing as clean coal.”

Addressing a Skeptical Audience
Chu joined Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) on stage at the University of Charleston to West Virginians they shouldn’t worry about President Obama’s anti-carbon energy views which many believe will punish West Virginia’s most important industry. He said coal is vital to the nation’s economy and supported by the Obama administration.

“The Obama administration is committed to a clean future for coal,” said Chu at the September 8 forum. “Our challenge is to lead the world on carbon capture and sequestration.”

Neither Chu nor Rockefeller was shy about agreeing with global warming fears that are the driving force behind proposed clean coal restrictions.

“I’m concerned that powerful voices in West Virginia continue to argue that climate change is a myth. I’m not on the same bandwagon that some of you are,” said Rockefeller.

While voicing support for federal programs to pump clean coal research dollars into his state and warning about global warming, Rockefeller nevertheless maintained he does not support the broad climate bills currently pending on Congress that would cap carbon dioxide emissions.

Economic, Political Concerns
Chu told the audience $40 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 will go to the National Technology Lab in Morgantown, West Virginia, which is working on carbon capture and sequestration. This, Chu noted, is in addition to $4.3 billion in taxpayer dollars already pumped into carbon capture and storage technologies as part of the 2009 stimulus bill.

Carbon capture and sequestration technologies would capture carbon dioxide released from burning coal and bury it deep in the ground so it does not remain in the atmosphere. The technology, however, has proven very expensive, and environmental activists have yet to climb on board. These factors make many West Virginians wary of supporting carbon dioxide restrictions until and unless economically competitive and politically feasible clean coal is assured of a continuing strong energy market share.

“This is something we have to take a step at a time,” said Jeff Herholdt, executive director of the West Virginia Division of Energy, in an interview for this story.

“In order to be comfortable about the future of CCS, we need to advance the technology system. Support from the U.S. Department of Energy is critical to advance CCS technology,” Herholdt added. 

Doubting Governments Promises
A PowerPoint item presented by Chu stated the Department of Energy’s goal is to begin commercial deployment of CCS in eight to 10 years.

Daniel Simmons, director of state affairs at the Institute for Energy Research, says Chu’s promises mean very little in the real world.

“The federal government has a poor track record trying to commercialize energy technologies, whether it’s solar power, wind power, or CCS. Before pouring billions of additional dollars into these kinds of projects, we should first ask why it hasn’t worked in the private sector,” said Simmons.

Alyssa Carducci ([email protected]) writes from Tampa, Florida.