Open thread for comments on the ‘60 Minutes’ story: “The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power.”

UPDATE:  Video:

My quick reaction is 1) woo hoo, showed my book on TV! and 2) boo hoo, cut out all my quotes about the other strategies that can provide all the clean power we need if CCS doesn’t prove practical and affordable [it is CCS or bust for the coal industry, but not for humanity and 3) double boo hoo to Jim Rogers, who runs a utility — he’ll do just fine whether or not CCS ever makes sense and 4) Scott, say it ain’t so — cap-and-trade isn’t a tax!

I’m interested in your reactions to the 60 Minutes story tonight:

The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power:  Coal Power Plants Supply Power To Millions, But Cutting Carbon Dioxide Could Take A Long Time

I’ve never really had an open thread like this before — nor have I launched a post below the top of the page before.  But I wanted to keep the Obama 100 day, Green FDR story on top.  Consider this a first-of-a-kind demonstration, like clean coal, though I hope it works out better.

Here’s the teaser from 60 Minutes (video here):

CBS: Jim Rogers, CEO of Duke Energy, knows that to help stop global warming he’ll have to do something about the 100 million tons of carbon dioxide that his coal-fired power plants emit each year. But right now, he’s building two more, because job one is to keep power flowing to his customers, and removing the carbon dioxide is out of the question, at least for many years to come.

Rogers speaks to 60 Minutes correspondent Scott Pelley for a report on America’s dependence on coal – the dirtiest fuel and biggest contributor to global warming – to be broadcast this Sunday, April 26, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Jim Hansen, NASA’s top climate scientist, says coal is the greatest threat to the planet, requiring immediate action.”We are going to have to have a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants within the next few years and phase out the existing ones over the next 20 years”¦to preserve the climate like the one that has existed the last several thousand years,” he tells Pelley.

But Rogers says a moratorium is not practical. “Mr. Hansen, can’t get done, won’t get done,” responds Rogers. “We’ve got to keep our economy going”¦ To do what you ask me to do now is just not doable,” he says. “We can’t abandon coal,” he says of America’s most abundant and inexpensive fossil fuel. “We have to find a way to keep it and use it in the future and that means the ability to clean it up,” he tells Pelley.

Rogers says he has big plans to make his company carbon free – but it’ll take at least 40 years. To help get there, says Rogers, his coal plants will have to use a new technology called carbon capture and storage, which turns the carbon dioxide into liquid and pumps it deep underground.

The problem is there are hundreds of coal-burning power plants in the U.S. alone: each would need to capture and store its carbon – and each would cost billions to build. In addition, the world’s energy systems will need to be retooled. “We can do that, but it’s going to take trillions of dollars to do it,” Rogers says.

Needless to say, Rogers is full of crap.  We can do this without dirty coal — see How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution (updated).

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39 Responses to Open thread for comments on the ’60 Minutes’ story: “The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power.”

  1. Jeff Green says:

    We are going to have to turn Rogers on to Climate Progress. Those same trillions can build a lot of clean green energy.

  2. Jeff Green says:

    Its time to have a pilot project of completely replacing a coal plant and then proceed to do it hundreds of times. If it takes trillions to capture co2, then we should just put it in green technology to begin with. There’s no common sense at the top.

  3. Brewster says:

    I thought the bit was quite well done…

    A lot of back and forth, but Hanson definitely got his viewpoint out there, and the commentator put Roger on the defensive.

    If I had a complaint, it would be the lack of time put on other choices beyond Coal, but I guess there’s a limit in what you can cover in that time.

    Lookin’ Good, Joe!

  4. Dave says:

    Overall impression — you done good. Pelley allowed Rogers to come off as a conscientious polluter (or, in Rogers’ euphemism, “emitter,”). At the same time, he let Rogers shoot his own horse out from underneath him by building a very persuasive case against coal in all of its guises.

    All in all, well done to you. As a lay viewer, I’d say this segment was very potent and left little wiggle room for Rogers and those who might want to agree with him.

  5. lizardo says:

    Oh I knew this thread would be up, good!!!

    Ok we were all alerted to this segment in my little greeny vinework because we are fighting Duke on his new Cliffside coal plant. My immediate thoughts. So half of Duke’s coal, they claim comes from the elsewhere shown (out west) but half comes from mountain top coal removal in Appalachia, and “60 minutes” didn’t address the fact that coal power can’t be clean even with CCS because it is is polluting at the source end and then there’s the fly ash problem at the tailpipe end….

    As to what they did do, well it just shows how low our standards for MSM coverage are that it’s cheering to see Hansen and Joe on the tube at all, let alone actually having a reporter confront a smug greenwasher like Rogers.

    I dare say most people noticed Rogers being confronted with Duke not investing a penny in CCS solutions. But did you notice that he expects the TAXPAYERS to pay for CCS. Of course if he asked his ratepayers to pay for it there would be riots in the streets given the costs cited, and justifiably so.

    Rogers spends absolutely no time actually running the company he’s out on the road all the time playing every side of the field. One of the stranger things you find if you do a search for all his latest quoted speeches etc. is that he will deflect one kind of regulation at the federal level saying it’s best left to the states, while in a different forum he’s saying we need to federalize energy policy and get rid of state regulation altogether. (Not surprising because he’s been getting better results out of Congress and FERC than he has with our state utilities commission in NC for instance.

    Bottom line for Rogers/Duke is (as was said by others re the banking crisis) “that’s a nice climate you’ve got here, it’d be a shame if anything happened to it.” Pay up or else.

    Duke wants to be paid off to not build plants. Duke wants to earn 90% of what it would earn in return-on-investment on imaginary plants it doesn’t have to build if energy efficiency programs actually mean they are demonstrated not to be needed (Duke’s Save-A-Watt program). They want taxpayers to clean up their coal mining and coal ash spills, and nuclear waste. They want carbon permits issued free (and apparently for quite a part of that 40 years if he got his way.)

    Oh, this comment is too long, sorry.

    I’m sure Jim Hansen also feels that what was cut from him was kind of a bad thing too. Rogers got most of the air time. It’s too bad that Inhofe and Burton and all these idiots make Rogers look like well, anything but the smarmy villain he is.

  6. Gail says:

    Oh, I thought it was very clear that Rogers is waiting for the federal government to pony up and subsidize any transition. Also he was speechless when asked about saving the planet, and basically conceded when asked, that it will be destroyed by coal plant emissions, since they can’t, according to him, be stopped or even slowed.

    Joe R, next time, plug the blog, not just the book, cause it’s free!

    Lizardo, great comment, not too long!

  7. Andy says:

    I thought that Mr. Rogers (yes, that cracks me up too) is a pretty impressive interviewee. When asked about his seemingly contradictory position, he didn’t try to answer the question but instead got his point about needing to face climate change out in a very succinct, forcefull and yet non-threatening and very believable manner. Very impressive speaker. He didn’t repeat the denier/delayer claims prior to his refutation of them so I guess he knows about your cardinal law of not repeating falsehoods.

    I wouldn’t think to know Mr. Roger’s motives though. You’d better watch it. My feelings are that he and his ilk are going to push CCS through using federal funding no matter how expensive it is. The story goes something like this: “Ok, global warming is for real, but we have no alternative to coal so we must do CCS, the other stuff is just moon beams or futurama land.” If the public doesn’t know better, well they won’t know better and will be lead like sheep. Who will come after Obama? Will they have the guts to fight the coal lobby? Better get out your iron underwear and hope that concentrated solar gets up and running before too long. Remember that the very first 70’s era concentrated solar worked but then was stuck on a shelf.

    Yes, he’s full of it, and you spoke very well yourself.

    And yes, I knew that some of the interviewees, at least yourself, had addressed alternatives and I’m sure you pointed out how much cheaper they will be than CCS technology and yes I was very disappointed that such information was not included in the piece. Apparently the 60 minutes dude had his story line all figured out before the interviews and didn’t want reality to intrude and mess it all up. What a dog! (apologies to all the good pooches out there)

  8. PeterW says:

    Joe, if I’m Rogers PR guy, I’m dancing in the streets tonight. CBS allowed them to frame this exactly as Duke Energy wanted. Only people paying attention to the issue will here the odd little nugget of truth, like how much Duke is investing in CCS.

    The average viewer will not pick these things up, at best they might be a little more confused.

    No from the opening bit about how a coal guy is really concerned about the future, to the end when he dismisses Hansen, the fix was in. This was definitely not the 60 Minutes of old. Pelley seemed in awe of Rogers for most of the interview. (Do you know if Rogers and Sumner Redstone are buddies?)

    It would be interesting to find out the reason that so much of your interview (and probably Hansen’s) ended up on the cutting room floor. I think both of you were used to make the viewer think that both sides of the argument were being presented.

    Sorry for being such a curmudgeon,

  9. Nick Kong says:

    I thought the segment only presented the false choice between coal/CCS versus the American way of life. Jim Rogers’ hypocrisy was well highlighted but in the end, the audience felt as though the environment is yet another “bailout” scenario that the country will have to fork money over for. I, like Joe, feel that the green economy is possible and certainly will be a good economic investment. But, when the physicist said that mass deployment of CCS will cost a Trillion dollars, I can already see audience members sinking into depression about our future especially since China and India are emitting at such fast rates (The segment failed to note China’s recent green stimulus and the long term impacts that may have). And, when Americans feel hopeless, there is no incentive to change since their actions won’t matter in the end.

  10. Bullwinkle says:

    Rogers reminded me of a meth dealer who says, “You know this stuff will kill ‘ya. But you know you can’t stop, right? Here’s some more while you think about quitting. Maybe if the government gives me a big bailout, I can help you, if don’t die first.”

    I was disappointed that there was, once again, no talk of the cost of inaction…

    Is a delayer any better than a denier?

  11. Lib says:

    First, thank you for spending the time to address the issue of coal. I was VERY disappointed, however, that Dr. Hansen did not get more air time to offer the truth. . .and where were the needed photos of 300 million year-old Appalachian mountiantops . . .removed???? Please, saying coal is “clean” is like saying a woman is partially pregnant, so why spend time discussing how we’re going to make it “clean”? At least you spoke about the tons of emissions, though I never heard a peep about the poisons in the emissions or the related health hazards. All this to say, that I agree that Rogers tried to look smart, but he sounded ignorant of the contents of the plumes about whch he was so proud ??

    For the real story, go to

  12. hapa says:

    never heard a company’s operations described as the personal property of the CEO. twice. agree that by leaving out all other energy options this was a fake choice between doing nothing at all and vaporware. with “repower america” all over television, leaving it out was conspicuous.

    as good as rogers came out, hansen said “20 years” in rogers’s face and rogers aligned himself and his company with the other team. that is probably important.

  13. Doug350 says:

    Well, I wasn’t keeping score or counting Romm’s, Hansen’s and Rogers’ time, but I’d say the millions of 60 Minutes viewers now have a better *general* idea of the face-off … and I’d wager they are split right down the middle. But at least some are *more* aware of the coal issue and the urgency (2050 Mr. Rogers?!?!) than they were before tonight. We have our work cut out for us. We all gotta learn sound-bite talk.

  14. max says:

    60 minutes has got to do a follow-up-not mentioning the alternatives and letting Rogers have the last word is not right-how can he say with a straight face that our economy is more important than our planet? Needless to say no planet no economy.

  15. Will Greene says:

    The notion that stopping 2 coal plants and replacing them with wind or csp will help to kill our economy is a ludicrous point by Rogers. Hansen is right, and I’m mad that it seems no politicians are also saying what he said, that we need a coal moratorium.

    I actually really respect Rogers for admitting his #1 job is looking after the bottom line of his company. If he doesn’t do that then he’ll be fired, so it makes sense. We need a moratorium, followed by a strong and effective cap and trade system. The democrats better deliver that for this planet, for my future children if I ever have any, and for all the next generations.

  16. Andres Kabel says:

    Scott Pelley does a fine job in a rare 60 Minutes segment that works. Jim Hansen correctly hones in on the moral dimension of this issue. Coal has moved beyond a mere economic issue; it is now a signal ethical matter for this generation to act upon for the benefit of the next and the one after. We shouldn’t be surprised that something as physical as burning coal has a moral dimension. We’re accustomed to labeling a societal ill by describing our response as “the war against X,” and in those circumstances we let the government spend what it should. The first step should be a moratorium against new coal plants, regardless of economic impact.

  17. Gail says:

    One lasting image for me was the immensity of the coal train. Seeing what a vast amount we are burning, at just one plant, every day, makes it more comprehensible that we are altering the atmosphere and the climate. Not that I doubted it, but for people who do, perhaps this is an image that illustrates the scientific reality.

  18. Greg Robie says:

    Visual impression: The two “J”s sitting “powerless” in front of computer monitors (like most of us virtually oriented homo saps who pursue morality in such an orientation) VS, “The Duke,” a Daddy Warbucks-type figure, flying in an autocopter/helicopter. In “Annie” FDR worked on Warbucks to help the government. “The Duke’s” business plan is to have the government pick up the cost of mitigating “his” carbon footprint. Welcome to 1984 . . . and the economic model that some feel can become sustainable.

    Framing Impression: Structuring this piece around the personal was a disempowering slight-of-hand. It externalized the CO2 mitigation work to a them, not an us/US; to “Daddies” who will do battle for us so we can continue to be “busy with [our] money games, [our] women (and to make this edit inclusive, our shopping–i.e. whatever we psychologically associate with oxytocin) and his guns. Oh [Joseph] save me!”.

    Impression of Content: Joe, given what you say was edited out, this “60 Minute” piece amounts to an infomercial for “clean” coal. It is my impression that the 2 “J”s were manipulated. Not only do scientists need to be better rhetoricians, they need agents to control how what is said can be used/marketed.

  19. Yuebing says:

    Rogers is just one more genuinely evil person. He attended a talk given by Hansen on Climate Change. He knows what is at stake, he knows his own role, and he certainly knows he can build renewables infrastructure as easily as more coal plants.

    Most of you have probably read Hansen’s letter to Rodgers:

    Darth Vader was fiction, Rodgers is the real thing. Some day, sooner or later, the public will grasp the moral issue here, and we will watch Mr. Rodgers and his kind meet their rewards. What really bugs me is that Rodgers knows what he is doing! He looks normal. No horns or anything.

  20. Great interview, really well done. We need more. Perhaps next time you could have someone who really understands the benefits of the only instantly available “Silver Bullet Solution.”

    Get an industrial hemp expert. Someone who can explain how we can get 500 gallons of fuel from and acre of land and that we can get all of our transportation and heating and cooling energy from industrial hemp.

    We don’t have to sacrifice land used for food crops. We can use land in the Soil Bank, we can also use some of the 500 million uncultivated acres in America, and do so with no pesticides or herbacides or chemical fertilizers, and we can grow hemp harvest after harvest on the same land. Rotation not needed. And in warmer climates get three to four harvests per year.

    We could eliminate all the raping of our forests and their ecological systems because hemp was the world’s first paper. We shut down hundreds of coal fired plants, eliminate the desacration of mountain tops, prevent the fools’ errand of pumping CO2 underground, and eliminate the constant seepage of CO2 and NO into the atmosphere from pipelines and drilling sites.

    Moreover, the buildup of methane hydrates would be eliminated and less methane (20-30 times more powerful than CO2 as a warming agent) would seep into the atmosphere as oil drilling ceased.

    Ya, get someone who really knows how in the next year we could plant 140-150 million acres to industrial hemp and solve so many of our ecological, environmental, energy and economic problems. Look at the jobs that would create.

    Right on right on….

  21. Brewster says:

    Gail, I live in Alberta, my sister-in-law lives in Florida.

    We drove down to see her Jan ’08, and my most lasting memory of the entire drive there and back was the endless procession of mile long coal trains – 10-12 a day – literally HUNDREDS of trains! It seemed there was nothing else on the tracks!

  22. Bill Becker says:

    Nice job, Joe. You and Jim Hansen make me believe in cloning. We need thousands more of each of you.

    As was the case for some other viewers, what jumped out most for me was Rogers’ admission that Duke hasn’t put a penny into clean coal research. I hope a few more taxpayers noticed that we’re engaged in an incredible exercise in corporate welfare here. The coal industry should be paying at least 80% of the R&D costs for clean coal. In addition, the Congress and Administration should make public subsidies contingent on an agreement from the coal and utility industries to pay back the public R&D investment if CCS is commercialized.

    As for new and existing coal plants, I’d still like to see a credible and quick study on the practicality, both economically and technically, of switching coal plants to natural gas, given new estimates that we have enormous domestic supplies of shale gas. With ample gas supplies and carbon pricing, won’t power from gas be cheaper for consumers than power from coal?

    In a New York Times op-ed on April 25, Dan Becker and Jim Gerstenzang say the Obama Administration has the power under the Clean Air Act to order that the new coal plants now in the pipeline — presumably including the two new coal plants that Duke is building — be switched to gas.

  23. Leland Palmer says:

    The mainistream media always seem to include at least one hidden conceptual frame, that they shoot in “under the radar” to affect our thinking in ways we aren’t aware of. This piece, short as it was, seemed to contain several, and the biggest one was right on the end – Obama is taxing carbon, and Congress is resisting.

    Another is that a trillion dollars is big money, spent over 20 years, by the world’s financial superpower. We just spent 3 trillion trying to invade the Middle East in four years, but now we are just too poor to spend a trillion over 10 years or so, to save the damned planet.

    Biocarbon can be burned in existing coal fired power plants, with very little trouble. Biocarbon is charcoal pellets, compressed and pelletized to a fuel density of coal.

    Oak Ridge National Labs has found 1.2 billion tons of “waste” biomass in the U.S. per year, in their report “Billion Ton Vision”. (Google it, if you like). This “waste” biomass was mostly agricultural waste, and if carbonized into biocarbon this 1.2 billion tons of “waste” biomass would make about 300 million tons of biocarbon. Burn this biocarbon in coal fired power plants, and already we have displaced about 30 percent of their CO2 emissions.

    Now add oxyfuel combustion and CCS to these plants. According to recent tests by Jupiter Oxygen Corporation and the National Energy Technology Lab, running their converted coal fired power plant in “untempered mode” without exhaust gas recycle, they were able to gain almost 7 percent more efficiency than other oxyfuel schemes, by running the boiler at higher temperatures. In their tests, this did not damage the boiler.

    Energy penalty for oxyfuel is about 11 percent. So, untempered oxyfuel combustion is within 4 or 5 percent of conventional coal combustion, while capturing CO2. Add in heat recovered from the oxygen separation plant and from the CO2 compressors, and the energy penalty for CCS using this scheme could be as little as 1 or 2 percent.

    Deep inject this CO2, and don’t use it for secondary recovery of oil, and this results in 300 million tons worth of carbon negative electricity, if the biomass used is replanted.

    So already, using only ORNL’s “waste” biomass figure, we have decreased coal emissions by at least 60 percent.

    Now add another 2.8 billion tons of biomass from fire protecting the forests, municipal waste, manure, sewage sludge, dedicated biomass plantations on marginal agricultural land, perhaps old landfills, and imported biomass from Canada and shiploads of biocarbon from Central and South America. This would result in an additional 700 million tons of biocarbon.

    Finish the conversion of the coal plants to oxyfuel, and deep inject the resulting CO2.

    Now, instead of the coal plants dumping one billon tons of carbon into the air per year, they would be transferring one billion tons of carbon per year underground. So, the coal fired power plants would become carbon negative.

    Add in the synergistic effects of fire protecting the forests, generating electricity for transportation, keeping methane out of the air from landfills, and so on, and this one measure could bring us, as a society, close to zero emissions.

    Now add in increased energy production from renewable sources, and the stabilization wedge strategy advocated by this blog, and we are close to carbon neutrality as a society.

    If we accomplished this over 10 years, we would not even notice the expense. We have already incurred at least 3 times this debt, for a stupid war which did not lower petroleum prices, but raised them instead.

  24. Ronald says:

    My view.

    1) There weren’t any deniers on the show.

    2) There weren’t any deniers on the show.

    3) There weren’t any deniers on the show.

    Is this 60 Minutes piece the first to show the rest of MSM how to do it? Time will tell, but this is a start.

    Okay, now that you are a big TV star, how about putting stuff on You Tube or some other propriety video about this subject that are made specifically for this and other websites. Isn’t there some science or educational fund you could tap into?

    Many people don’t read for information. Most certainly don’t read science magazines. The political right is alot on the radio. Newspapers are very hopeless, not enough push or sense of virtue, saving the planet not important enough when you economic survival is the priority. video might be a good branch to go into.

    Have interviews with the scientists, talk to the head of these world scientist organizations, video tape selected parts of climatologist conventions. (with scientists permission, not all of them are as much of a media hound as you are) There’s a whole library of video that needs to get out there.

    What do you have to do, hook up some Science departments with the Art and Drama departments on some college campuses?

  25. Good that NASA’s climate scientist set a deadline of 20 years. Americans trust NASA, and Hanson is obviously sincere and good on TV.

    A short deadline is important, because the prospect of dying tomorrow concentrates the mind wonderfully. The IPCC and others sounding the alarm over CO2 buildup have not succeeded in motivating action, according to the latest polls. Scientists tell us about a few degrees change by the end of the century, which seems negligible and which is beyond the life expectancy of the audience. We are sorry to hear about the polar bears and Miami underwater, but few of us care enough to stop driving and turn off our lights and appliances.

    Congress has very little credibility or scientific knowledge. The less we hear from politicians, the better. This is because the proposed cap-and-trade plan looks like a tax to raise money for some sort of frolic or bailout unrelated to climate change. So put Hanson out front instead. He can change minds.

    Most of the interview was with Rogers of Duke Energy, who made the important point that we have lots of coal, and that coal presently provides more than half of our power. In China, it is nearly all. He did not come across as a greedy plunderer of the environment, but a manager who is meeting his responsibility of delivering reliable electricity to utility customers. He admitted not spending anything pursuing “sequestration” and that should be to his credit because: (1) in the American SE, there are no sites for underground dumping of CO2, and (2) the GAO has found that sequestration is a fool’s errand.

    Many enthusiasts for biofuels, solar, wind, etc. seem to be unaware of the SCALE of the problem of substituting for coal in the next 20 years. Renewables are intermittent, and biofuels have a low energy density. Wind supplies now only 2% of US power and solar is much less. Environmental obstacles to building out the grid to accommodate renewable power remain an unsolved problem.

    I was disappointed that “baseload power” was not explained. That is critical for understanding the limits of substituting renewables for coal.

  26. Dean says:

    Climate Progress readers generally get that a reason this will all be so bad for us is that the ways we get our food, water, etc, have evolved with out existing climate. But the biggest impacts will not come from these impacts. Take a look at how civilizations of the past dealt with climate changes – there are plenty of examples to look at. Our political and social institutions also have evolved with the climate as a driving force. How we apportion power and wealth is affected by how we feed ourselves and what resources are available to us. Coal has a lot of power – see how even in Australia, the power (politically-speaking) of coal has prevented a strong response.

    None of the technology advances mean squat if our political, cultural, and social institutions cannot respond intelligently to this challenge. I’m convinced that in 1000 years when historians are researching and writing the history of these early days of the Age of Warming, far more words will be written about how our political and cultural institutions responded as opposed to technology issues, and how we deal with the Power of Coal (as opposed to the power generated by coal) will be a big part of that. Take a look at Obama’s position on CCS, if you need any hint.

  27. Theodore says:

    I suspect that many coal advocates actually believe that anti-coal people advocate a future without coal in which we will be sitting under blankets, shivering in the dark every evening while telling the young ones the many stories that we old folks remember having seen on television.

  28. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Wilmot McCutchen-

    Many enthusiasts for biofuels, solar, wind, etc. seem to be unaware of the SCALE of the problem of substituting for coal in the next 20 years. Renewables are intermittent, and biofuels have a low energy density.

    With carbon negative energy schemes, the scale of the coal fired power plants is actually useful. Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) can only be done on a large scale, and we are going to have to transfer billions of tons of carbon underground to have any significant impact on global warming.

    Biomass does have a low energy density, but biocarbon (pelletized, compressed charcoal) has a energy density that is 70% higher.

    Biocarbon makes biomass as transportable as coal.

    A way to transport large amounts of biocarbon long distances would be to construct biocarbon log pipelines, using coal log pipeline techniques. Biocarbon has physical properties almost identical to coal, so this should be doable:

    It might be possible to connect Pacific Northwest and perhaps even Canadian forests with power plants in the West, using coal log pipeline technology applied to biocarbon. Water requirements are significant, but because biocarbon contains a large fraction of activated charcoal, the water would likely end up very pure, and require little or no cleanup.

    We’re going to have to thin and fire-protect the forests anyway. The insect killed trees will also have to be removed, to keep insect infestations down to a minimum, IMO. The best place for this biomass is as biocarbon/CCS, because it is then transferred out of the atmosphere and underground. Replanting completes the cycle, and ensures a true carbon negative result.

  29. Wilmot McCutchen,

    Your report on the 60 Minutes program very much as I would.

    You did add an opinion about Congress which I also agree with.

    Science, government, and established industrial operations do not form a problem solving group. Legitimately, science tells us that there is a problem with CO2 and we have to stop producing it, industry tells us that coal is a critical fuel for civilization and its use will continue, and government tries to jump in with taxes and regulations based on the advise they get from lobbyists and their sense of what the public will accept.

    People like you (your website shows significant understanding of the problems of CCS) and I see possible answers based on technology that we understand. No doubt there are others.

    Mostly what is needed is an open minded public. Here we are confronted with the pollution of ignorance, and I might add, corruption. One of the problems of dispelling ignorance is the overwhelming amount of misinformation barraging us all. Unfortunately, informative advertising that might be desirable, easily gives way to misleading, deceptive, and fully fraudulent campaigns.

    Not all close mindedness is due to dishonesty. We also have to confront those who have absolutist positions. In the present discussion, those who insist that coal fired power has to be banned can fall into this category. For example, if your approach could successfully capture just half of the CO2 from coal fired plants it would render such plants equal in “cleanliness” to natural gas fired plants. This would be great progress. But it would require massive re-education to get it accepted.

    Some people came away from the “60 Minutes” program deeply depressed. You and I see a problem to work on.

  30. Ronald says:

    Some made the comments of all the coal trains they saw. I read that half of railroad tonnage is coal.

  31. hapa says:

    theodore: four words: “world made by hand” — mega-anti-consumerism is out there alive in the field and it occasionally writes for rolling stone, the longhair bible. of course on the other side, weighing in just as heavily, there are folk who think the warming is blessed divine retribution or that it will spare the chosen countries.

    my sense is that the people who aren’t getting paid to make the argument of the week are more likely to think that liberals are saps leading the country to hell on the road of good intentions — this is a nice belief because it excuses you from participating in the engineering effort — other people take the risks of the new/necessary economy while you rake in every last pollution-economy dollar you can.

    this is a surplus-economy strategy unfortunately — if the risk actually needs to be borne by the whole group, they’ll fight that, leaving the risk incompletely addressed.

  32. Ron says:

    For the cost of retrofitting coal plants for their continued use, all the roofs in America could be covered with solar panels and coal use would automatically decline to nothing in a short period. Transmission of electricity is inefficient with loses of about 40%. There would be little transmission loss if electricity was produced on site, every home, and building. another benefit of new type solar panels is they can also act as protective roofing adding to the life expectancy of your roof.

  33. James Newberry says:

    The marginal economic cost of any “next billion tons” of carbonic acid gas (CO2) may be infinite if the ecosphere finally reacts like a light switch and melts the permafrost and clathrates (frozen undersea methane hydrates) thereby sending concentrations to 1000 ppm. Coal is a material resource, not an energy resource. The carbon is underground (sequestered) today for a reason.

    Our entire Western concept of “energy” is built on a Ponzi scheme of ecological fraud. Mr. Rogers, and the banking/utility/media/war/fossil/fissile/fuel industry, is the Mr. Madoff (made off) of electical services.

    Thank you Joe for your continuing contribution to the American public.

  34. Leland Palmer says:

    In a New York Times op-ed on April 25, Dan Becker and Jim Gerstenzang say the Obama Administration has the power under the Clean Air Act to order that the new coal plants now in the pipeline — presumably including the two new coal plants that Duke is building — be switched to gas.

    Natural gas is still carbon positive, of course. Biocarbon by itself, without CCS, is carbon neutral. With CCS, biocarbon is carbon negative:

    If there was a ban on new coal fired power plants in the U.S., I wouldn’t shed a tear.

    But the existing plants should be switched to biomass/CCS, until the damage done by the industrial revolution is undone, and the climate returns to stability.

    Bellona Foundation: How to go carbon negative.

    The latest observations of climate change tell us that carbon negative is not only an interesting idea, but a necessity if we are to avoid crossing dangerous climatic tipping point, writes Bellona’s president, Frederic Hauge in the blog on the Copenhagan climate negotiations. Frederic Hauge, 30/03-2009 By combining technology for CO2 capture and storage (CCS) with the use of biomass, future energy production can remove CO2 from the atmosphere. The latest observations of climate change tell us that carbon negative is not only an interesting idea, but a necessity if we are to avoid crossing dangerous climatic tipping point.

    This article has also been published at the Cop15 Climate Thinkers Blog.

    This spring, Dr. James Hansen, head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, visited several European capitals. Along with leading climatologists, Dr. Hansen argues that we are at the danger of crossing tipping points beyond which climate change will become irreversible. To avoid this and preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, Dr. Hansen and colleagues advocate reducing the level of CO2 in the atmosphere from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.

  35. Wilmot McCutchen, you seem to have fallen for the same outdated factoid that 60 Minutes did…that “we have a lot of coal.” 60 Minutes even specifically mentioned PRB as being a massive (and implicitly cheap, the way they presented it) source of fuel. PRB, and specifically the Gillette field (considered the heart of the PRB) are Exhibit A in the case refuting the common wisdom on the amount of coal we have. The US Geological Survey published a report in August 2008 that updates their assessment of the economically recoverable coal in Gillette (the last assessment – the one everyone bases these comments on – was done in 1974). They found that the amount of economically recoverable coal is 6% of the previously assumed amount. That’s not 6% LESS, it’s 6%, PERIOD. So do we have 200 years’ worth of coal supplies, as claimed in the 60 Minutes piece? Or do we have 20 years’ worth? Who knows, but the true number is most likely closer to 20 years than 200. That’s not me talking, nor is it one of the “usual suspects” like Sierra Club…it’s the US Geological Survey.

    Jim Bullis, not sure what it is you’re so smug about, but you apparently don’t even know how the ratio between CO2 from a coal plant and CO2 from a gas-fired combined cycle plant. The proper ratio is not 2:1, it’s 4:1 – gas has about half the amount of carbon by weight, but a CCGT is nearly twice as efficient as the average coal plant, so you’d need to capture 75% of a coal plant’s CO2 emissions to make it as “clean” as a “gas plant.” Not sure what other incorrect facts you’re running with, but you might want to check them before you run around assuming that you and Wilmot are the only ones who understand what needs to be done.

  36. Michael Hogan — Thanks for the correction on coal supplies in the US. China, however, will remain a problem even after the US runs out of coal. So the problem of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants won’t be solved naturally by a coal shortage. Then there are the tar sands and oil shale, which could also be carbonaceous fuel, and which will be even dirtier than coal.

  37. Jade in San Francisco says:

    Joe I saw you on 60 Minutes! Wooooo hoooo! I thought that you did an excellent job of putting the real cost of CCS into perspective. The carbon/oil input output analogy was really good. You also managed to get a plug in for your book, which I must admit to having a copy myself. My only gripe with the segment was the fact that the green washing charlatan Jim Rogers was allowed to straddle the fence a little too much. I was hoping that you and Mr. Hansen would be given a little bit more time to talk about alternatives to “clean coal”. Good job overall.

  38. David B. Benson says:

    Wilmot McCutchen — You should read David Rutledge’s article on TheOilDrum regarding peak coal; about 30 years, world-wide.

  39. Wilmot,

    China became a net importer of coal last year. If anything, China’s impending coal supply issues are even more acute than those of the US. Don’t get me wrong – we’re fully capable of burning enough coal and oil to fry the climate – but anyone who blithely assumes that there’s enough coal to allow us to continue with the current supply mix for centuries, or even decades, may well be in for an unpleasant surprise. Shortage per se won’t save us from ourselves, and it’s foolish to base our defense of de-carbonization on peak-anything, since no one knows when the peak will be and there will be false periods of apparent surplus, perhaps many of them, between now and whenever the peak actually occurs. But if you’re thing is security of supply, you should be worried – very worried – about policies that blindly assume there’s “plenty of coal.”