istock smokestacksAt the risk of obsessing, check out this new report on “clean coal” from the Center for American Progress.

I’ll let CAP do the talking:

…the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group comprised of 48 coal and utility companies. ACCCE spent at least $45 million on advertising this year to convince Americans that “clean coal” is the solution to global warming. The ACCCE companies claim that they “are committed to making coal a clean energy source.” Yet the coal mining and electric utility industries spent over $125 million combined in the first nine months of 2008 to lobby Congress to delay global warming pollution reductions until clean coal technology is ready.

Despite the ads’ claims, an analysis by the Center of American Progress determined that ACCCE’s companies spend relatively few dollars conducting research on carbon capture and storage, the most promising clean coal technology to reduce global warming pollution from coal-fired power plants. This technology would allow power plants to capture 85 percent or more of their carbon dioxide emissions and permanently store them underground in geological formations.

  • Recently, ACCCE spokesman Joe Lucas admitted that the commercialization and widespread use of CCS is still 10 to 15 years away.

    Quick note: many experts think 15 years is an unduly optimistic projection. It’s based on some rather rosy scenarios for both investment and technological development.

    ACCCE continues to oppose mandatory reductions in greenhouse gases until CCS is commercialized… Yet ACCCE companies have created their own “chicken and egg” policy loop: no action on greenhouse gas reductions until CCS is commercialized, and no real action to commercialize CCS.

    There’s plenty more at CAP’s website.

    I suppose I should take a moment to clear up the record about my position on carbon capture and sequestration. So here’s the deal: I think CCS is a great idea. Truly, I do. If CCS technology ever becomes viable, and also cheap enough to scale up and put a big dent in coal-fired greenhouse gas emissions, I will be delighted.

    The reason I’ve been harping on the “clean coal” is because, much like a unicorn, it simply does not exist. If did exist, then I would love it. But it doesn’t. And because it does not exist—and because the need to reduce climate emissions is paramount — it is exceedingly dangerous for us to base our climate strategies on the hope that clean coal will someday be real.

    We already know how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, we already know how to clean up the electricity sector. So we need to get to work post-haste doing the things that we can do right now. (And by the way, investments in efficiency and renewables can actually save us money in the very near term—just the opposite of expensive investments in unproven CCS technology.) In fact, the surest way to make CCS a reality is to force the issue: we should put a hard cap on carbon now, which will unleash a wave of investment into redesigning our energy system. But until there’s a legal limit on climate pollution, the coal industry has every incentive to keep kicking the can down the road..