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Sierra Daily

May 10, 2011

Roasting Coal

110510-coslog-inhalerart-coalcares-bieber.nv_nws By now, we hope you have heard about Coal Cares, the coal-industry spoof that  promises to take the stigma out of childhood asthma by providing kids with asthma inhalers emblazoned with the likes of Justin Bieber, Dora the Explorer, and SpongeBob Square Pants. One of the Web site’s many gems: "Locating the filtering mechanism at the point of consumption (i.e., your child's mouth) is dramatically more cost-effective than locating it at the point of emission (smokestacks) and in turn means less need for intrusive and costly regulation.”

Peabody Energy, the butt of the spoof and the world’s largest private coal company (its Web site keeps a running tab of the volume of coal it has sold this year -- 90 million tons -- just like the old McDonalds “Over 99 Billion Served” claim), was not  amused. In its response to Coal Cares, Peabody added some fuel to the slow-burning fire, claiming that coal energy is basically, well, good for us. “A growing collection of studies demonstrate the correlation between electricity fueled by low-cost coal and improvement in health, longevity and quality of life,” reads the company’s press release.

That’s because the coal industry sees its lung-choking product as the sole antidote to what’s known as “energy poverty” –- the lamentable fact that 1.6 billion people in the world lack access to electricity. At an energy-industry confab in Houston recently, Peabody Energy’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Gregory H. Boyce crowed that "coal is powering both the largest and best global economies, and this is no coincidence. The correlation between coal-fueled electricity use and economic growth is near-perfect."

Others aren’t so convinced that the world's best option is moving from super-dirty energy sources such as charcoal or firewood to a dirty one such as coal. Last year, World Bank President Robert Zoellick urged countries to move away from “the binary choice of either power or environment. We need to pursue policies that reflect the price of carbon, increase energy efficiency, develop clean energy technologies with applications in poorer countries, promote off-grid solar, innovate with geothermal, and secure win-win benefits from forest and land use policies. In the process, we can create jobs and strengthen energy security.”

Sven Teske, renewable energy director for Greenpeace and a member of the U.N. panel of climate scientists, recently told Reuters: "Excluding China, the global power plant market has been phasing out coal since the late 1990s. The growth is in gas power plants and renewables, especially wind.”

Small-scale solar and wind projects are particularly appropriate for delivering electricity to rural areas, unlike big coal-fired power plants that require costly power lines. For some excellent analysis of the potential of renewable energy in India, read blog posts here, here, and here by Justin Guay of the Sierra Club International Program. For more on coal, go here.

--Reed McManus

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