Biden: No coal here

by Daniel Kessler

September 24, 2008

At a campaign stop last week in Maumee, OH, Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) talked to a young 1Sky campaigner about energy policy.  The question was about the Obama/Biden ticket’s position on coal. Biden answered by defending his record of support for renewable energy, and then he said this:

"No coal plants here in America. Build them, if they’re going to build them over there make ‘em clean because they’re killing you."

The "over there" he’s referring to is China. That’s a remarkable statement from the potential veep and one that begs for further explanation. Biden has been mum since he said this, but allow me take a stab at what he likely meant.

On their Web site, Obama/Biden say this about coal:

"Obama’s Department of Energy will enter into public private partnerships to develop five “first-of-a-kind” commercial scale coal-fired plants with clean carbon capture and sequestration technology."

That policy position is at odds with Biden’s statement. Presumably, Biden is saying no new coal plants here, period, CCS-ready or not. China, he seems to be saying, can’t be stopped from building new coal fired power plants so what we ought to do is develop the technology to make them run cleaner.

This logic is inline with what Thomas Friedman has been saying: The next revolution will be energy technology, so we need to own the innovation and then export it. That’s the way to help the American economy and lead by example.

Friedman and Biden certainly are right about the need for innovation. The question is why the focus on coal, which we know will never be clean? Those who say that it can be tout Carbon, Capture and Storage (CCS), a plan to capture carbon emissions from power stations and bury them underground. The technology won’t be ready for at least another twenty years, too late to save the climate. Yet the vague promises of CCS are being used to justify building new coal-fired plants. These plants will spew out enormous amounts of CO2 pollution for at least the next twenty years and probably during their whole 40-year lifetime. In short, any new coal fired power plant will contribute massively to the climate crisis.

Hopefully, this topic will come up in the veep debate, scheduled for Oct. 2. But don’t count on it. According to Media Matters, the progressive media watchdog group, only four percent of the questions asked during the primary debates were on energy and the environment. Only three questions touched on renewable resources and conservation, including one asking if candidates used compact fluorescent bulbs. Seriously.

Given America’s energy problems and the threats from global climate change, the inclusion of conversation about coal’s future and what Biden exactly meant should be part of the upcoming debate. You can email your Congressional representative here and tell them what you think of coal. 


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