Why are Obama and Salazar pushing a massive expansion of coal production?

Powder River Basin Distribution Legend Low Res

This weekend’s question may have no good answer.

On Tuesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced plans to auction off 758 million tons of coal in Wyoming over the next few months.  Then on Friday, the Bureau of Land Management explained they will be selling off another 1.6 billion tons of coal at a future date.

Salazar claims coal could play a role in the “clean energy future,” but that isn’t true, of course — except in an alternative universe where CO2 has a high and rising price and carbon capture and storage pans out — neither of which seems likely even if Obama weren’t now indifferent to serious climate action (see Harvard: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 “” 20 cents per kWh! and Studyfind leaks from CO2 stored deep underground could contaminate drinking water).

The coal represents a staggering amount of future CO2 emissions, as Wild Earth Guardians, Sierra Club, and Defenders of Wildlife explain:

When burned, the coal threatens to release more than 3.9 billion tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from 300 coal-fired power plants, further cementing the United States as a leading contributor to climate disruption … Salazar’s announcement is a stark contrast to his call for clean energy. Interior, for example, touted that in 2010, 4,000 megawatts of renewable energy development were authorized. And in today’s press conference, Secretary Salazar announced Interior’s intent to authorize more than 12,000 megawatts of renewable energy by the end of next year … Yet in opening the door for 2.35 billion tons of coal mining, Salazar’s announcement effectively enables more than 300,000 megawatts of coal-fired energy — 30 times more dirty energy development than renewable energy.

Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from coal combustion lasts a long, long, long time (see  Fossil CO2 impacts will outlast Stonehenge and nuclear waste).  And that’s a major reason unrestricted burning of coal is just bad for humans (see Life-cycle study: Accounting for total harm from coal would add “close to 17.8¢/kWh of electricity generated” and A stunning year in climate science reveals that human civilization is on the precipice).

So this decision just makes no sense, though Grist offers one explanation for cynics:  Obama administration can’t wait to sell China all the coal it can burn.

This decision certainly eviscerates Salazar’s green street cred that he had developed by aggressively pushing renewable energy on public lands.  It fits into an emerging pattern with offshore drilling and the continued embrace of uber-expensive nuclear power and the abandonment of any effort to pass serious climate legislation that suggests perhaps Obama really doesn’t get it at all.  If so, it’s time for people like science advisor John Holdren to contemplate resigning and moving on to a job where he can do more good — like leading a national effort of scientists to inform the public about the extreme dangers of burning all that coal.

What do you think?

116 Responses to Why are Obama and Salazar pushing a massive expansion of coal production?

  1. S. Majumder says:

    Perhaps that coal is going to get exported to China?

  2. David Smith says:

    Why? Because they don’t have the political support to do the right thing and must keep the ship afloat in the mean time.

  3. Mike Roddy says:

    This is horrifying, and it makes no difference if the coal goes to China.

    The only sensible explanation is that Obama works for the money, and does what they say. Salazar’s announcement fits a pattern. A right wing woman friend who used to date a CIA operative warned me about this during Obama’s campaign, and even went into some conspiratorial details about how he was picked during college and then groomed, along with about twenty other young men. The same thing happened to Bill Clinton.

    The people who picked them didn’t care if he was a Democrat or Republican, since part of the process is to see that whoever they choose can be controlled. In exchange, they are provided financial and political support to see that their rise is assured. When they ascend to the top, they make sure that the money- banks and fossil fuel companies- is taken care of. My friend also said that they are aware of global warming, in spite of what their employees on Fox say, and think that the coming cull is necessary.

    It sounded pretty weird at the time, especially since she was going on about the Council on Foreign Relations, the CIA, and even the Bildeburgs. It appears now that there is some truth there, though people like us have no way of knowing.

    The people need to rise up in the streets, and after that Obama should face a strong primary challenger. Maybe Howard Dean or Kathleen Sibelius.

  4. Dano says:

    You don’t really think we are going to stop/slow down using coal, do you? Come now. The plutocrats and those enjoying the corporatocracy don’t give a sh….whit about all that sciency stuff. It’s the bottom line that matters: so those who can, will buy stuff to shield the few from the problems of the many.

    Srsly. Until something major happens we won’t do anything but continue along the BAU path. That is the human condition.



  5. Christophe says:

    Is it possible that the administration is simply counting on business as usual and market forces (with a nudge) to gear us in the right direction?

    Right now the trend seems to be that fossil fuel costs are rising and renewables are falling, with parity forseeable within this decade. There seems to be at least some good work out of the spotlight to encourage that trend (thanks to Energy Secretary Chu). Politically, I don’t think they would want to be tied to the rise of energy prices (which would obliterate their reelection chances). Therefore it’s important to at least talk a good game: offshore drilling, coal (with CCS), even nuclear (knowing full well the economics are atrocious and it’s going nowhere), along with wind and solar. Appear to be fair and even-handed, and be pro-active enough to preempt accusations of negligence (or worse, collusion) while the price at the pump is rising, all the while a deeper transformation is in fact quietly taking place.

  6. Dave Yuhas says:

    What do I think? Game over. Or start massive research effort in global-scale atmospheric CO2 scrubbing.

  7. BBHY says:

    All I can figure is that Obama wants to make sure that environmentalists never vote for another Democrat again for the rest of their lives.

    I think it’s about time that we contribute to and vote for politicians who are on our side.

    Green Party, Green Party, Green Party!

  8. Peter M says:

    This is very perplexing. From Obama not unexpected- he certainly must know that coal is destroying the planet. Why he continues to advocate its use is a total mystery.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    Christophe and David,

    Whey should we trust them? That’s something you have to earn.

  10. Mimikatz says:

    I have come to believe that, as Mike Roddy’s friend suggests, a significant portion of the powerful do indeed want to see a much smaller population with many fewer poor, disabled and unrich elderly. Many of their followers are unaware of this agenda. That’s the theory that best fits the facts, given that they really do have to understand at climate change is real.

  11. Prospace Environmentalist says:

    So….is President Obama still going to veto any rules that would strip EPA’s authority to limit greenhouse gas?

  12. Why? Maybe reverse psychology, as an alternative to real leadership.

    Leasing and actual exploitation will take long enough that it will never actually happen. In the meantime, we planet savers have something to rally against, and Salazar/Obama may think they’ll get some little slack from the taker side in Congress in the meantime.

    Personally, I think time is way to short to screw around, and we desperately need all the courage and bold leadership we can get at every level of U.S. society to save millions and millions and our beautiful world.

  13. Barry says:

    Hansen called it awhile ago in his book Storms of my Grandchildren: “Obama doesn’t get it”

    Elect a coal-funded politician from a coal state and it isn’t a big surprise that he favors coal.

    The only ray of hope at this point is that Obama’s energy picking luck will continue with coal. Offshore drilling push was followed almost immediately by BP historic oil volcano in gulf. Big nuke push was followed almost immediately by Fukushima historic multi-meltdown. Wonder if we will get an event that will likewise highlight the even worse dangers of coal to a distracted America?

  14. Joan Savage says:

    The Powder River coal is low sulfur, low ash, bituminous or sub-bituminous, much sought after for making steel. China has very little of those kinds of coal.
    The local human population in eastern Wyoming is very sparse. The biggest single property in the area is the Thunder Basin National Grassland.

    These factors makes it quite a target, low-hanging fruit, cheap shot, what ever you want to call it, in either the energy independence scenario or the relationship with one of our major trading partners.

    Reactive degradation of natural resources is counter-productive to long term national security, even were it not for the overwhelming issue of carbon dioxide emissions, which in this case should be seen for what it is, a national security issue and a global security issue. Once a resource is gone, it’s gone for a long time.

    Why o why is Obama in what looks like a politely veiled panic?
    How can he calm down and stop burning the bridges?

  15. Wes Rolley says:

    Thank you BBHY (#7) for giving me the chance to comment. We do have a quandary here. Considering the importance of ecology, the Green Party is the only one with the right set of policies, but they have no power. The Democrats have significant power, but as one can see, they fail to deliver on the right set of policies. I worked on this for several years as CoChair of the EcoAction Committee, Green Party US.

    So, what is to be done? You can give the Greens more power by voting for them, or you can hope that continued support of the Democrats will eventually deliver the policies that we need.

    Since Greens accept no Corporate money, the choice is really with the public, but you can not say that Koch Industries, or Exxon, or GE, or… controlled a Green vote.

  16. Ben Lieberman says:

    It’s time to start a grassroots movement to work for a coal phase out followed by a coal ban, and it’s also time to start a campaign informing people of the damage caused by the power sources that they use.

  17. Lewis C says:

    There are three possible explanations –

    Joe’s – that Obama really doesn’t get it at all – which is directly contradicted by his intelligence – that allowed him to become a professor of law, by his formal advice from Holdren et al, from US Joint Chiefs, from all Nato allies, etc, and by the ongoing escalation of extreme and destabilizing weather events. To discount all of these in his head he’d have to be more stupid than is conceivable.

    Mike’s – that he is the ‘Manchurian’ product of corruption and merely serves the corrupt status quo under a CIA/Bilderberg business plan. This is possible, but pretty far fetched – particularly given the evident passion and understanding of social and climate issues expressed in his speeches prior to election. I may be naive in this, but he simply doesn’t strike me as a corrupt posturing liar, and over the decades I’ve become highly sensitized to such types.

    The third explanation is that this is what a “Brinkmanship of Inaction” over climate looks like – that it is the enactment of just “Who can ignore Global Warming the longest.” As such it is a coercive attempt to gain China’s compliance with US demands that emissions cuts are pro-rata and simultaneous – not converging to per capita parity and Western-led to reflect historical responsibility – intendedly resulting in the US retaining several times the per capita emission rights of its superpower rival. (Obama’s demand at Copenhagen was of three times the per capita rights of China forty years hence).

    To make credible the threat of looming climate catastrophe for China and other resistors if they fail to comply, the US has to refrain from any action that will significantly diminish its GHG profile. BAU has to be pursued with enthusiasm, and the climate bill must be prevented even from going to a vote – by direct sabotage if necessary.

    I’m intrigued that so many here would prefer to assume that their president is either catatonically stupid or fundamentally corrupt, rather than acknowledging the nationalist foreign policy imperative that drives him not only to advance BAU and thereby undermine America’s climate security, but even to injure his own electoral prospects by discouraging the young people that put him in power.

    Why is that ?



  18. Tim says:

    Obama is an opportunist. He sees the GOP attacking him on energy and seeks to preempt their criticism that he isn’t doing anything to promote energy independence – hence this decision. His administration will make nonsensical noises about “clean coal” to cover his butt with people who want to think he’s being green but who don’t really care enough to actually discover whether “clean coal” is just marketing hype.

    Look, Obama has clearly decided on a reelection strategy wherein he will situate himself just to the left of the now ultra-right GOP and, as Democrats have been doing for 20 years, take everyone to the left of him for granted. If he gave a damn about the “left” he would have fired Rahm Emanual for calling his base supporters “f%&*ing retards” when they were upset about the loss of the public option during the health care circus. I voted for Obama and I donated to his campaign, hoping that his large pool of small donations would convince him that he could exhibit a lot of independence from corporate control, but it is time to draw the obvious conclusion: he lacks convictions and is mostly interested in his political survival.

  19. paulm says:

    Anti some thing….

  20. Mike Roddy says:

    The Realpolitik explanation doesn’t work for me, because Obama will lose far more votes by people sitting out from these kinds of actions than he would gain here. Coal doesn’t have much of a popular constituency, and to the extent that it does they won’t vote for him anyway. Maybe he is using a state strategy, and wants to carry West Virginia and Indiana, but there’s another word for that kind of thinking: sellout.

  21. aaron_m says:


    Could you comment on the IEA’s estimate that stabilizing atmospheric GHGs at 450 ppm CO2-eq will be 70% more expensive (at 2050?) without CCS compared to a scenario that follows their roadmap for CCS development? Apologies if you have already talked about this, but I do not remember seeing any posts on the IEA’s estimates.


  22. Deborah Stark says:

    …..(The decision) fits into an emerging pattern with offshore drilling and the continued embrace of uber-expensive nuclear power and the abandonment of any effort to pass serious climate legislation that suggests perhaps Obama really doesn’t get it at all…..

    Oh, he “gets” it.

    It sounds to me like coal, oil and gas are set to become commodities primarily accessible to a select contingent of prepositioned corporate buyers who will focus on making as much money as possible on the fossil fuels for as long as they can. They’ve been getting their ducks in a row for years in this regard – since the early 1980’s, really.

    With the repeal of the Public Utility Holding Company Act in August 2005 (passage of the Bush-Cheney Energy Bill) investment banks, hedge funds, insurance companies and oil companies are now free to own utilities and utilize those revenue streams for investment in non-utility acquisitions.

    Those corporate entities that can afford to play this game intend to rake it in while they can.

    It will get ugly, and rather rapidly I think.

  23. Richard Brenne says:

    Because they want to kill off our species?

  24. Richard Brenne says:

    I’m sorry, typo, all species. . .

  25. Leif says:

    This is all so damn depressing. I think I will just go into the garden and eat worms.

    Mike Roddy’s theory unfortunately continues to be the one that makes the most sense in light of all the evidence presented to date.

    The Karma Pay Off of all this that Corporate and Capitalistic Greed is not taking into account; – The fact that they are biting off much more than they can chew and becoming embraced by the Big Cull themselves.

    Past Earth has endured Ice Ages, Acidic Oceans, Extreme Temperatures, Floods and more.
    Anthro Ecocide is just one more era.


    “So-long and thanks for all the fish.” Douglas Adams

  26. Joe’s — that Obama really doesn’t get it at all — which is directly contradicted by his intelligence — that allowed him to become a professor of law, by his formal advice from Holdren et al, from US Joint Chiefs, from all Nato allies, etc, and by the ongoing escalation of extreme and destabilizing weather events. To discount all of these in his head he’d have to be more stupid than is conceivable.

    Lewis, ‘intelligence’ and ‘knowledge’ aren’t one-dimensional measure. The fact that Obama was a law professor says almost nothing about his understanding of the scientific process or his understanding of natural disasters, just as James Hansen’s strong background in science will say almost nothing about his comprehension of the minutiæ of federal law.

    even to injure his own electoral prospects by discouraging the young people that put him in power.

    Why is that ?

    Perhaps according to Obama’s political calculations, when election time comes, he just needs to mouth the right words, press the right buttons, and blow the right dog-whistles, and all will be forgiven.


    it is time to draw the obvious conclusion: he [Obama] lacks convictions and is mostly interested in his political survival.



  27. darth says:

    Most likely I think Obama wants to appease this Republicans, increase our exports (reducing trade deficit was part of his platform) and the government will get some revenues too, which they desperately need.

    But it doesn’t look good for him really ‘getting it’ when it comes to climate change.

  28. David Fox says:

    If I were christian, I would probably be calling Obama the anti-christ. I think the Manchurian model fits best, but with the exception that he knows exactly what he is doing.

    For every specific way he portrayed himself, every policy he said he would put in place, he has done the opposite. I guess you could argue health care, but its a watered down bill that was written by the healyh insurance industry, so I for one don’t count it as a plus for him. When it comes to privacy, he said he was against retroactive immunity for the phone companies that broke the law under Bush. Yet he voted for it as a senator, and pushed FISA further as president. He said that he supported protecting whistle blowers and was for transparancy, yet again with his actions he has done the opposite (see Bradley Manning, wikileaks, and the White House visitor logs).

    I could go on and on, but I think the record is clear, Obama is not the man I voted for. I think you can look to the fact the his is a smart politician that hails from Chicago. Chicago doesn’t have a very good track record in fielding responsible, ethical leaders.

    I think that if it could be proven that Obama isn’t the evil man of his actions, the only explanation is that he’s deluded. I believe the former, he is bad person, especially because he duped so many of us into believing that he would bring change to the way we do things. I trusted him, but he sold me out.

  29. Andy says:

    Doesn’t the EIR for this sale represent a great opportunity to argue about coal’s impact and require mitigation, which would be so massive as to make the proposal infeasible? Easier than arguing on individual plants and mines.

    Not that the argument/lawsuit would be a winner, but it does tee up the issue on a useful scale.

  30. Jay Alt says:

    Because he’s a two-faced quitter.

  31. K. Nockels says:

    As long as we the people damand more power every year to keep the lifsyle to which we have become accustom we have no choice but to burn coal, sell coal, lie about clean coal. Depletion of fossil fuels makes that the reality we are confronting now. We are witness to the reality of what it takes to run this country and keep it running. Everything we buy and use everyday requires hugh amounts of energy the only way to change that equation is to change our way of buying, using, living. Try to sell that anywhere in America today. We are pass the no pain solution window, and into the no choice if we can’t change as a nation era.

  32. Villabolo says:

    It may be Obama is doing this because he received a nasty report on Peak Oil.

  33. john atcheson says:

    Machiavelli answered this in the 14th Century. Nothing is more difficult than establishing “a new order of things …” as the entrenched interests have power and will be aggrieved, and the new interests do not yet have power.

    Or, as Max Planck put it, “… it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul…” “… An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning.”

    It takes a truly extraordinary man or woman to usher in change before its time, and Obama — notwithstanding his intelligence — is not an extraordinary man.

    Or to put it in more mundane terms in this season of March Madness: The Plutocracy can be counted on to sweep the series, especially now that the Supreme Court has stacked the team with 7 and 8 footers with the passage of Citizen’s United.

  34. Noel says:

    Very well said Mr Fox. I concur. It’s sad to hear good people on the left/progressive side hedge their complaints about Obama with terms like ‘of course, he’s very smart’ and ‘we have to be realistic about what anyone can actually do in Washington’. I really wish Mr McKibbon, Mr Brown, Mr Kuchinich et al would say it like it is – we were lied to by Obama. My read is that he’s a tool and a wimp. The early comment about being ‘shortlisted’ does ring true, weird as it may sound. I’ve been told it’s almost unprecedented to secure the academic position he did in Chicago at such an early age.

    Anyway, very depressing. There is no doubt in my mind that we’ll burn everything we can. If you still have hope, read John Perlin’s book about the history of wood and civilization – where we’re at and where we’re going is so very simple to understand when viewed through Mr Perlin’s lens.

  35. with the doves says:

    Why? Because Obama and Salazar aren’t committed to sound energy policy.

    Funny concept of “change.”

  36. Lore says:

    It’s time to admit that both sides drink from the same corporate troughs. Then ask yourself, where is the hope of change if both sides fear biting the hand that feeds them?

  37. paulm says:

    Absolutely bizarre times.

    To think that the science was clear half a century ago. And look were we are now, still today.

    A climate change reminder from 1956

  38. PAUL DONOHUE says:

    About a week ago, coal stocks were all big winners. I am not sure how they did this week, but I guess the fix was in.

  39. Michael says:

    I have long since given up on Obama doing anything right; as far as I am concerned, presidents rarely live up to their pre-election promises. So he does make some claims that he will do this or that – but then he turns around and supports more coal and such, directly contradicting himself.

    Of course, it isn’t all just Obama’s fault; for example, the state I live in is very dirty and stands to directly benefit from the coal sales:

    Coal is the dominant fuel for electricity production in Missouri and typically supplies more than four-fifths of the electricity market. Missouri was the first State west of the Mississippi River to produce coal commercially, but production today is minimal. The vast majority of the coal used in Missouri is brought in from other States, and over nine-tenths of this coal is transported via railcar from Wyoming. The single-reactor Callaway nuclear plant in Fulton supplies much of the State’s non-coal electricity. Approximately 3 percent of Missouri’s electricity is generated from renewable sources, and the majority of that is from hydroelectricity generation. ”

    And as long as those coal plants are around, coal will be burned, and there isn’t much incentive to close them before the end of their lives.

  40. Richard Brenne says:

    David Fox (#28) – I think your conjecture that Obama is the Anti-Christ might be off by one administration.

    I think Mike Roddy’s friend’s interesting conjecture about a Manchurian Candidate is just that. All such conspiracy theories can be true in one sense, but not true in another. Our entire system operates as if it were such a conspiracy, but without anyone having to say anything about it. Everyone knows where their bread is buttered and no one bites the hand that feeds them, even with butter (to mix and mangle myriad metaphors).

    Obviously as several have said Obama is only looking at his political reality instead of the reality of Anthro-Earth that has just rung our doorbell (the chimes ringing Haiti, Pakistan, Russia, Australia, Japan, and the Middle East) and is standing patiently on our porch ready to pay us one serious visit.

    Obama’s ego has become that of almost every leader in human history. He envisions himself as our Messiah, and compared to people like Bush, McCain and Palin he might be somewhat right, but he forgets that Messiahs need to do something messianic, Messiahs by definition become Pariahs, and prophets do not profit.

    I’ve stared into the hellish heart of a coal-fired power plant in Boulder, Colorado, then turned to see Arapahoe Glacier almost visibly shrinking as a result (then biked 15 miles to give a talk about it), have descended into the pits of the biggest Powder River coal mines and walked around the coal trains.

    The U.S. has 600 coal-fired power plants that on average burn a mile-long coal train a day. The world burns seven times this amount of coal, or a 4,200 mile long coal train a day, or a million and a half mile long coal train a year. Altogether we’ve burned about a coal train to the sun, and if we continue at this rate by sometime soon after mid-Century we will have burned a coal train to the sun and back.

    The consequences of this are unimaginable, quite possibly a 50 per cent increase in water vapor and the equivalent to the output of two million power plants in energy added to the system within a century, creating weather and storms humans can’t begin to imagine. At some point most places on Anthro-Earth would have feet of rapidly rushing water, while low-lying areas (possibly outside the non-metric U.S.) will have many meters.

    But maybe getting your ego re-elected is more important. . .

  41. Scrooge says:

    Lease it while its worth something. Hopefully in a few years it won’t be worth digging out of the ground. I don’t know if leasing will mean we use more or not.

  42. David Fox says:


    I agree about Bush being worse, but the problem with Obama, and the reason I compared to an anti-christ is that he sold himself as somewhat of a savior. Change. Yes we can.

    With Bush, we knew what we were getting from day one.

  43. To call President Obama an abyssmal disappointment is to express to gentle an opinion regarding nearly every decision this president has made since reaching the Oval Office. We’ve got the third term of the George W. Bush presidency going on right now and, should Obama get re-elected, we’ll have a fourth term of the same.

    I’d say I’m disappointed but I gave up on humankind as a lost cause a long time ago. Thank God that the Earth is a lot more than humankind and that Nature can afford to lose this last representative of an failed evolutionary experiment in primate intelligence.

    I’ll continue paying attention to manatees, dolphins and birds … humankind doesn’t merit classification with Nature’s more perfect creations.

  44. Windy City Kid says:

    Most of us from Illinois knew Obama had a close ties to the coal (oil and ethanol too) industry during his entire Illinois political career. The red dots in Illinois in the map at the start of this thread show that Illinois is coal country. It is hard to imagine that he was unaware of the global warming concerns in the 1980s when he was cozy with these industries. It isn’t that Obama changed because he is doing exactly what he did before in Illinois. People think he has changed because they took him at his word during a campaign rather than examine his history of actions and votes in Illinois. If you didn’t look at his Illinois record the other big hint of the Obama disconnect between action and words was when he approved Enbridge’s Alberta Clipper tar sands oil pipeline in the Summer of 2009. Anyone that had followed Obama’s career in Illinois is not surprised by any of this.

  45. Joe says:

    Some of these comments are unduly harsh — Obama isn’t a third term of W let alone the Biblical AC [hmm,AC360….]

    But his failures on climate make him a failed president from a historical and global perspective, and future generations will judge him harshly. Same for the rest of us, I’m afraid.

  46. toby says:

    I would be interested in hearing the views of Holdren and Chu. Anyone heard anything?

  47. Mike Roddy says:

    Windy City Kid,

    Thanks for reminding us, but actually we knew about Obama’s shady Chicago and Illinois connections. We hoped that he would transcend them, and found reasons to believe that fantasy in his speeches. After all, Roosevelt and Kennedy betrayed their classes, so it didn’t seem too much to ask that Obama would turn his back on grimy home interests like coal and corn.

    As it turned out, our own dreamy hope was to blame as much as his exploitation of it. But who else was there? Hillary? Yeah, right.

    We were suckers, fooled by his craven charm. Obama and Clinton were selected for that quality, not only because it would get them elected, but because the ability to bullshit with a smile is usually associated with a lack of intellectual depth. This of course suits the purposes of the fossil fuel companies. They want someone who is a good talker, and took a lot of Poli Sci courses. An actual thinker can be dangerous.

    Look around at the people who actually are smart as hell. Jim Hansen. Noam Chomsky. Even the occasional politician, like Merkel from Germany. When they’re in front of a microphone, you get the feeling that someone is pointing a gun at their backs to make them do it, and you can’t wait for them to finish speaking. Our Barry is the opposite, and how he and Clinton got the reputation of being “smart” or, in the current situation, brilliantly machiavellian (he’ll do something in 2013?) is beyond me.

    Part of the fault, of course, is our own. We have lost the ability to detect substance, and prefer to plug in our masturbatory dreams. Maybe the predictor of humanity’s doom is all of the people watching porn on the internet. By accident, the conservatives may be right about that one. I wish I had been watching it instead of getting fired up by Obama’s speeches.

  48. Peter M says:

    #45 Joe

    the attacks against Obama are justified. He has turned out to be a huge disappointment. I have voted for a Democrat for President every year since 1972. In 2012 no.

    It will be the Green/Socialist Party for me. The message is, change will come, not from Democrats or Republicans, but from climate.

  49. Richard Brenne says:

    I think Joe (#45) says this best (this sounds a lot like our beloved Joe, only sans italics).

    I joke about the AC in ironic and humorous tones.

    Certainly Obama is thus far a great disappointment for all the reasons mentioned above, but anyone analyzing his actions and administration without factoring in all the countless powers that be arrayed against him is doing an incomplete analysis.

    The Biblical use of the term AC would be closer to appropriate for someone who waged unnecessary wars, lied and got everyone in his administration to lie in order to go to war, had an out-of-control ego and deep-seated psychological father issues that led to this war, allowed his turdblossom brain to wage war to improve his chances of being re-elected, allowed his vice president and puppet master to use war to enrich his (Halliburton) and related mega-corporations, destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives and the infrastructure of a nation for these ends only, and used and condoned torture in a way completely unprecedented in the history of his nation.

    Each of these is so deeply anti-Christian (to anyone who actually reads the New Testament teachings of Christ) that if one is not the Anti-Christ himself, when doing these things he is in his employ.

  50. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Noam Chomsky and Ralph Nader both predicted Obama’s behaviour precisely, simply by looking at his record. The ‘Hope Fiends’ were conned, full-stop. We were told Obama’s campaign contributions came from lots of little contributors. Not so, not by a country mile. The oligarchs and plutocrats, the Big Financiers in particular, financed Obama. If you want the full details of Obama’s recruitment at college, his subsequent promotion and advancement and who exactly calls the tune by paying this piper, just Google The Chicago Jewish News, October 24, 2008, the article Obama and the Jews by Pauline Dubkin Yearwood. It’s all there in black and white. His record is invariable. Service to Big Business. Rescue of Wall Street, no matter what the cost, while letting Main Street sink. Sabotage of Copenhagen with tactics designed to make the poor world pay for the sins of the rich, and the continued lifestyle of the over-consuming plutocracy. Military aggression, Guantanamo unclosed, the inmates there ‘indefinitely’. All designed to demoralise the Hope Fiends and put them off politics forever, and didn’t that work well last November? You must, for the sake of humanity, if you are a Democrat, dump him before 2012, and find someone who will serve humanity, not just the plutocratic, parasite elite. Either that or vote Greens, or something. Obama is eight long years wasted, not that I think that your political system can offer anything but a choice of evils, just like ours.

  51. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent article Joe and you’re right there aren’t going to be any good answers….all bad ones.

    My own opinion is that he made a decision before getting into office to throw climate change over the side (he wasn’t a big climate change Senator at all) and go where the campaign donations were coming from in the energy side of things – this explains virtually every boneheaded choice his administration has made.

    I can already see the upcoming election in 2012, we’ll have the GOP candidate who won’t even be able to say the words climate change and then we’ll have President (sold us down the river on climate change) Obama standing there saying “but it’ll be worse with him/her” and there you have it.

    As several other people have pointed out his admin has consistently, from tar sands pipeline decisions to this expansion of coal production, done exactly the opposite of what someone who cared a wink about climate change would do. He’s obviously sold out on this issue (back in 2009) and, sad to say, nothing his administration does surprises me anymore.

  52. Prokaryotes says:

    paulm says “Absolutely bizarre times.”

    I agree, look at all the regime change and violence. probably stirred by CC psych impacts and food cost.

  53. Mark says:

    I hear at Area 51 they’ve perfected the space elevator….

    and have several versions of these to try out….

    but they gotta sell the coal to raise the money to deploy it, so why NOT? I mean, as soon as we overcome the climate change choke point we can grow grow grow GROW! There are no other limiting factors.

    Right? I mean, right?

  54. catman306 says:

    Remember the concept of ‘old money’? The original owners of coal, oil, banking, railroads, steel, electricity, shipping, timber and livestock were the original old money. Now 4 or 5 generations later, the offspring of the super rich all own stock in all of these industries. So, for example, as someone above posted, coal generated electric power requires thousands of mile long trains to keep operating and that requires millions of gallons of fuel oil, and plenty of steel for tracks and rolling stock. The stock owners (upper executives own plenty of stock), make money several different ways when America does business as usual. They would lose plenty if America changes the way we do things. They are not on the side of preventing cataclysmic climate change.

    No Change At All is the only ‘change we can believe in’ if you are one of these heirs.
    “My friends” really means ‘my very rich friends’.

    When politicians speak, listen to the message as if you, too, are one of these millionaires. The message will be loud and clear. It will mean more money for the super-rich and the super-rich will do everything in their power to trick the mass of voters into believing that the candidate is speaking to the common voters and that some change will mean better conditions for the non-rich.

  55. BBHY says:

    Progressives seem to think that they have to vote for Democrats that are not aligned with their values. The only reason Green candidates don’t win is that they don’t get enough votes. All you have to do is vote Green.

    Democratic Underground, Daily Kos, Move On, they are all full of people complaining that Obama is not the liberal they thought they were getting. When I tell them that they are getting exactly what they voted for, and that if they truly wanted a liberal they would have voted Green, they act like I’m the anti-Christ. The 2000 election in Florida comes up, as though Nader is the sole reason the W got elected. Yes, about 90,000 Floridians voted for Nader. They were not all Democrats, they included many Republicans and independents. In that same election, 500,000 registered Democratic voters opted for W, so who exactly is to blame for W winning that state? Without the Supreme Court interference Gore would have won anyway.

    If most of the unhappy Democrats, Republicans and independents voted Green, the Green would win in a landslide.

  56. Barry says:

    john atcheson (#33) pwns it: “the entrenched interests have power and will be aggrieved, and the new interests do not yet have power.”

    And I totally agree with john that Obama isn’t a person that pushes very hard against resistance. He just isn’t the person for the job of ushering in a new economic model. He isn’t our Churchill for climate sadly.

  57. Mark says:

    BTW, my earlier post (53) was sarcasm. There’s no such thing as a kindler gentler carbon neutral capitalism because that economic model requires nonstop growth… and nothing grows forever.

  58. LucAstro says:

    The strong response seen through the various comments above is up-lifting.

  59. Joan Savage says:

    A policy move towards western coal development at this time must still be coming from a multi-person, multi-factored process, unless some compelling risk has emerged. The timing is interesting.

    I know it seems way too rational to look at an increasingly scarce resource (low-sulfur, low-ash bituminous coal) and its potential buyers, foreign and domestic.

    The domestic US demand for low-sulfur bituminous and sub-bituminous coal is going to jump if, (and we hope when), the US EPA air quality regulations are fully implemented for coal-fired power plants. The less prepared utilities are going to want to buy this kind of coal to cut the concentration of pollutants from their other supplies.

    Powder River coal has been blended with high-sulfur coal to produce a “compliant” coal.

    That is besides the demand for high-quality coal for steel production in US, Japan, South Korea, China, etc.

    As far as Obama-watching is concerned, I’m thinking now that he’s reacting to demands to supply coal that complies with most of the current environmental regulations, and he’s deferring how to deal with cutting green house gases and getting re-elected, if indeed he still wants to do that.

  60. Ziyu says:

    My guess is that he’s just a very stupid politician. He wants to reduce political opposition to him by being nice to coal but he’s not going to win over any political opponents. They’ll just be more motivated to vote for right wingers. Meanwhile his base support would diminish.
    Then there’s the next likely theory: sellout. Obama wants to improve the economy, create more jobs, reduce the trade deficit, and win key states in 2012. So he’s being nice to coal, which is the fastest but in the end destructive method. It’s basically joining the dark side for power.

  61. David B. Benson says:

    One could check on what the laws governing the BLM actually say…

    It might be that Secretary Salazar is simply following the law.

  62. Joan Savage says:

    Over on this weekend’s open thread, RossMacfarlane posted a link to a Bill McKibben piece in the LA Times on the export of Powder River coal to China:


  63. Karmel Korn says:

    The Bessemer steel process requires 1,850 tons of coal to make the steel for one wind turbine tower and the rebar in the concrete base.

  64. Mike Roddy says:

    Catman, you’re right. The wealthy don’t like to work, since they’d rather be on their yachts or at the ballet. Fossil fuel dividend and stock income is low risk and low stress, and they are heavily invested there.

    Karmel Korn, embodied energy from production of wind turbines and solar arrays is absolutely trivial compared to the parade of coal trains into power plants. That’s a denier meme. Look it up in the EIA tables, and do the math per tonnage as a proportion of total steel and cement production.

  65. Tim says:

    @60 Karmel Korn

    Here are some interesting recycling facts. In any given year, I suspect that Americans are throwing away more steel (and the energy used to make it) in the form of “tin cans” than is used to make in all the wind turbines in the US for that year.

  66. Mark says:

    BBHY (55) said “When I tell them…. if they truly wanted a liberal they would have voted Green, they act like I’m the anti-Christ.”

    I tell ’em that republicans are lemmings headed for the cliff at a fast gallop, and democrats are lemmings headed for the cliff at a fast jog.

  67. catman306 says:

    Karmel Korn, do you have a link referencing 1850 tons of coal to make the steel for one wind turbine tower and rebar…? Maybe you show the math?

  68. paulm says:

    I know circumstances are a bit different, but if you step back there is some overlap here. I mean the west does not go flying into African conflicts like this.

    What is going to happen to the oil there? Is Obama/Europe fighting for its life blood?

  69. Sailesh Rao says:

    Buckminster Fuller said, “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

    It was our fault that we bought into the “Change We Can Believe In,” within the same existing reality. Now, I can’t imagine Obama fighting the existing reality, even if he wanted to, when all other branches of government are completely in the pockets of fossil fuel interests.

    I think Joe is right that both Americans and Americana are going to be the objects of pillory for generations to come. So much for the legacy of the Founding Fathers and their brilliant conception in the Declaration of Independence.

    What a shame!

  70. question says:

    My My My…

    Obama just completed his second year in office a couple of months ago and already all the armchair presidents are judging him a failure, sellout or antichrist. It is not like he has had much to deal with… only averting a second depression, a public midterm “revolt”, chaos in the mideast, winding down two extremely expensive wars. I’m so glad that we have so many readers of Climate Progress who would do a better job!

    Let’s look at this objectively:

    Wind energy generation in the US increased since 2008 at an annual rate of about 26%. This is consistent with the global average of the last decade and a half of about 25-28% per year.

    PV energy generation (grid connected) in the US increased since 2008 at an annual rate of about 63%. This is better than the global average of about 55% over the last 4 years. And much better than the rate before that.

    The global yearly growth rate of wind has been about 25-28% for about a decade and a half. World wide nameplate capacity is now (2010) at 194 GW with a capacity factor of ~30%.

    The global yearly growth rate of PV has been about 55% for about a half decade. Worldwide capacity is now (2010) at 38 GW with a capacity factor of ~25%.

    Global power consumption (all sources) is about 15TW. Wind and PV account for about 0.5% of energy use.

    Wind in 2016 with current/historical growth rates: 855GW
    PV in 2016 with current/historical growth rates: 540GW

    Wind in 2020 with current/historical growth rates: 2.3TW
    PV in 2020 with current/historical growth rates: 3.1TW

    By 2030, even with high estimates of the growth of energy usage worldwide, we would be off carbon entirely.

    These are the ONLY numbers that matter. If Obama is re-elected and we continue these growth rates through his presidency then he will be judged a success. If the rates decrease significantly then we will be in trouble. So far he meets the criteria for success.

    Sound like Pollyanna? With wind we are nearly halfway there. Growth rates have held at current rates for a decade and a half. PV doesn’t have as long a history, but is *still* less mature and has ample room for improvement. If the rates stay at 26-28 and 55% through 2016 then the major complaints (“it can’t scale”, “it’s too expensive and reliant on subsidies”, “it doesn’t have a long enough history and isn’t reliable”) will have been decisively addressed.

    The game for the next few years is about promoting alternative energy. It isn’t about coal or nuclear or oil: these are mature technologies. They aren’t going to go anywhere or change much in the short term. Selling a bit of coal to the fossil fuel industries isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

    So my message is judge Obama (and yourselves) by the progress of renewables. Alternative energy has grown solidly (spectacularly?) on his watch during a major recession when people are usually scared of risk and change! Before we start calling people the antichrist, let’s at least try to look at real solid measurable facts. Remember, it is the other side that is allergic to science!

    PS. Alternative energy sources would grow even more spectacularly if every one who is committed actually went ahead and switched their energy provider to renewables or bought certificates. Have you? It is our job, even more than it is the president’s, to push renewable energy.

    P.P.S. To those who think “Obama’s such a disappointment, I’ll sit out the next election”, I can only say “you have no idea of how bad it could be”. Sitting out the next election is being a traitor to your children. There IS a difference. Think Gore vs Bush.

  71. Mike Roddy says:


    Nobody here called Obama the Antichrist. And Obama deserves little credit for the growth in alternative energy, since that had begun under Bush. Rah-rahing clean power sounds good, but we have way too far to go to begin to reverse or even stabilize emissions growth and global warming by hoping for technical improvements.

    We need a carbon tax, aggressive actions to phase out especially dirty and emissions intensive coal plants, financial penalties for health externalities and pollution, and much else. Obama instead has expanded access to all fossil fuels, even faster than Bush- more deepwater drilling, more fracking, tar sands pipelines, and now freeing up more coal mining.

    You’re not talking to chumps here on Climate Progress. Take your Change We Can Believe In rap to the suckers who still go for it.

  72. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mark #66, you are so correct. Americans are the most successfully brainwashed population in history. That basic human attributes like collective action, caring for others, seeking the greatest possible equality in society etc, and the recently become vital desire to see humanity survive, can be lumped together and demonised as ‘socialism’ and utterly rejected by society, while psychotic greed, unprecedented inequality and the total destruction of the planet’s biospheres is idolised as ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ is a victory of wickedness and idiocy over humanity that must be unprecedented in human history. To turn a nation into greedy, atomised, utterly self-seeking robopaths, is the darkest victory that evil ever achieved.

  73. Deborah Stark says:

    Re: Joan Savage | Post #62
    …..Over on this weekend’s open thread, RossMacfarlane posted a link to a Bill McKibben piece in the LA Times on the export of Powder River coal to China:

    Thank you (and RossMacfarlane) for that link.

    So, the plan is to export 5 million tons of Powder River coal a year to Asia from a port in Washington State via a “largely automated coal-loading process” that would require all of 70 workers to manage.

    Great move.

    I swear I cannot believe it.

    A little follow-up:

    Peabody Energy, SSA Marine ink deal for Powder River coal exports

    Washington coal port developer says plan for bigger facility shelved

    The developer of a coal export terminal in southwest Washington denied reports this week that the company sought to deceive government officials about the size of its project, pledging to continue seeking a permit for the 5 million st facility it originally proposed.

    No matter the size of the current plans, Millennium Bulk Terminal CEO Joe Cannon said the project he has previously described as a “test case” for the coal industry could suffer from the disclosure of internal documents detailing discussions for a facility that could handle 60 million st annually.

    Officials in Cowlitz County were caught off-guard by the plans revealed in court documents last week….. [continued]

  74. Deborah Stark says:

    One more:

    Bad Omens for Arch Coal

  75. MADurstewitz says:

    In regard to Mike Roddy’s post:

    My brain locks up when I get anywhere near anything that might come out of Alex Jones’ mouth . . . however,

    I know a few people who have had extensive dealings with the UN. One is a close friend. The other gave me a lot of research materials for one of our projects. Both told me an ugly story regarding population, climate change and fresh water.

    There is someone affiliated with the UN who is quoted as saying:

    “I need a billion consumers and a billion servants. The rest are unnecessary.”

    No one will say who this person is. No one will even say which country he is from. When I read your post about “the cull” my mind snapped straight to it.

  76. Donald Oats says:

    Basically the USA is committed to making global warming as bad as it can be.

    It doesn’t matter greatly whether Republicans or Democrats are in power, or in how great their oratorical skills may be. At the end of the day a mix of Republicans and Democrats have chosen repeatedly to thwart efforts to reshape the biggest (or nearly so) coal/oil/fossil fuel economy in the world, and instead to run with the politically expedient solution of no solution at all. We in Australia have precisely the same problem that our political process is unable to properly reconcile a long-term (now much closer to mid to short term, but that is another story) problem of global import with local coal mining and export industries demanding an easy life. Fact is though, Australia has a tendency to import the decisions made in America, and to run its political debates like a mini-America: culture wars, history wars, political correctness, global warming and the denial industry, tobacco to a minor extent; most amazing of all, a “Tea Party” style people’s revolt against a Labor government (Labor = USA Democrat, sort of) – even though most people here in Oz quite understandably wouldn’t appreciate the historical significance of the reference to “tea” in the first place.

    Watching so much money being burned on CCS instead of constructively employed on renewable energy research instead is intensely disappointing. As a strategy by the fossil fuel industry, putting up CCS “research” works rather well as a delaying tactic, and also as a means of sucking money away from the renewable energy budget (where government investment is concerned).

    It is frustrating to watch one thing after another sabotaged at the political level, but in a free-market corporatist democracy there are severe limits to what the people may achieve unless they have serious money behind them.

  77. dp says:

    we sort of don’t know what we’re about to cook here, or what ingredients we’ll really need. given that, why would it be easy to persuade current diners that there will be food on the table tomorrow? so to speak.

  78. Anonymous says:

    Yes. Coal has a major role to play in the energy production. Renewables can only supplement but not replace conventional power like coal,petroleum etc.,

    Here are some interesting figures:

    Coal plays a vital role in electricity generation worldwide. Coal-fired power plants currently fuel 41% of global electricity. In some countries, coal fuels a higher percentage of electricity.

    Coal in Electricity Generation
    South Africa 93% Poland 92% PR China 79%
    Australia 77% Kazakhstan 70% India 69%
    Israel 63% Czech Rep 60% Morocco 55%
    Greece 52% USA 49% Germany 46%

    Source: IEA 2010

    The importance of coal to electricity generation worldwide is set to continue, with coal fexpected to fuel 44% of global electricity in 2030.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  79. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Yes. Coal has a major role to play in energy mix.Renewables at best can supplement conventional power like coal,petroleum etc.,

    Here are some interesting figures:

    Coal plays a vital role in electricity generation worldwide. Coal-fired power plants currently fuel 41% of global electricity. In some countries, coal fuels a higher percentage of electricity.

    Coal in Electricity Generation
    South Africa 93% Poland 92% PR China 79%
    Australia 77% Kazakhstan 70% India 69%
    Israel 63% Czech Rep 60% Morocco 55%
    Greece 52% USA 49% Germany 46%

    Source: IEA 2010

    The importance of coal to electricity generation worldwide is set to continue, with coal expected to fuel 44% of global electricity in 2030.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  80. Jim says:

    Joan #62 and Deborah #72,

    Exporting PRB coal through Washington ports to China is the biggest global warming battle in the NW. The first export application at Longview WA has been withdrawn because the company was caught intentionally understating the amount of coal they planned to export.

    And there is another battle over applications for coal exports out of Bellingham WA.

    All of this coal will be shipped on Warren Buffett’s train company, Burlington Northern. Large financing is coming form Goldman Sachs.

    Exports through both of these ports will potentially defeat all of the carbon emission reductions in the NW. Pay attention to this battle – it is very important to whether coal use in China is constrained. And Obama’s expansion of the PBR leases does not bode well for the US role here.

    Peabody Coal is being cagey, but here is what they told their investors in September:

    Mark Liinamaa – Morgan Stanley

    Hi, unless I missed it, I didn’t hear any comments about the west coast port, can you talk a little bit about how you might see that business model unfolding and does it have to be a kind of a Peabody only type effort? Thanks.

    Gregory Boyce – Peabody Energy
    Well, I mean obviously you didn’t miss it, we didn’t have much detail included in our comments and that was by design, because all of this is a bit early stage and still going through a fair bit of base load work in terms of where the optimum locations might be and what would make sense. So we are being a bit careful in what we say. But having said that our initiative is what can we do in volume and quite frankly what can we do in volume for Peabody in order to move you know PRB coals into the Pacific rim, but as well as what can we do for our other coal products in the U.S., Illinois Basin and even Colorado into the International marketplace. But you know you will hear as it unfolds we will provide more information on progress that we are making but it’s just in a period of time where we would like to not to go into too much detail. Suffice it to say there is a tremendous amount of work that’s taking place and our initiatives are focused on what can we put in place that will provide us a significant volume of capacity for PRB coals out of the west coast.

  81. Leland Palmer says:

    I don’t share the general opinion on carbon capture and sequestration, that most people who post on this site apparently have. CCS has gotten some bad press, mainly because the the people who run this country don’t want “clean coal”…they want the status quo.

    Digging coal out of the ground and burning it is just kind of nuts, these days, though.

    We should be converting the coal fired power plants to CCS, and converting their fuel source to biomass or charcoal. We should use the higher combustion temperatures, and higher Carnot efficiency of combined cycle power generation, to add a gas turbine topping cycle to the plants, and use the enhanced efficiency of the resulting power plants to pay for the conversion. In short, we should transform the coal fired power plants to BECCS (BioEnergy with Carbon Capture and Storage) and start putting massive amounts of carbon back underground.

    Most of the technical details of such a scheme have already been worked out. CCS via oxy-fuel combustion is practical, and has been demonstrated by Jupiter oxygen corporation and Vattenfall, among others.

    Having said all of that, we’re talking about a couple of billion tons of coal…about two years worth of U.S. consumption. Even if we were to transform all of the power plants tomorrow, we would still have to mine this coal to keep the lights on, while the transformation to BECCS was occurring.

    So, it’s a bit disappointing, but the disappointment lies not so much in the coal leases as in the lack of radical action by Obama.

    He should declare a national emergency, and seize the coal fired power plants, and then transform them by fiat into BECCS power plants, with most of the biomass or charcoal being transported by river barge or rail to the power plants.

    Still, Chu and Obama have it mostly right, IMO. CCS is not as costly as the industry would have us believe, IMO. How costly it is depends on how we do it, and adding a topping cycle could increase efficiency enough to pay for the parasitic losses due to CCS.

    And yes, we do have to continue to support nuclear energy- we have no choice, and compared to a runaway greenhouse effect, nuclear accidents are absolutely trivial.

    Yes, of course, we should support wind and solar. Yes, we should be surpassing the Chinese in building these things, and leading the world into a new energy future.

    But we have to keep the lights burning while we do so.

  82. Speedy says:

    What fraction of coal production goes to industrial processes like iron (reducing agent) and aluminium (electrodes) smelting? Are there any real alternatives to coal in these processes?

    Iron can be made with charcoal, but I don’t think clearcutting massive amounts of forest is a good idea. There are research being done into inert electrodes for aluminium, but especially for the anodes it’s very difficult to find a cost effective material that has good conductivity and does not melt or oxidize in pure oxygen at 1000C.

  83. perceptiventity says:

    makebelive Obama is

    Wind Speeds Increasing
    On World’s Oceans, Study Says

    slightly off-topic but in an age that worships globalisation…

  84. ToddInNorway says:

    After reading 74 comments, I see that not one of you understands the connection with China. The USA owes China in terms of public and private debt about 1 trillion dollars, give or take some billions. China can continue to buy US treasury bonds and help the USA avoid a total financial meltdown, or they can quit buying US IOUs and instead start to sell them and create an immediate financial crisis. Now if China tells the US administration that China wants US coal, or else, what do think the President and his administration will do?
    For those of you USA citizens and businesses who have inflated appetites for credit, and have supported two major military interventions during Bush I and II, this is the price the whole USA will now pay. The USA must now sell something to the Chinese that they really want. Coal. Soon it will be that China needs more Food, so you can expect ramping up food exports to China and subsequent rampant global food price inflation in the near future.

    Interesting times indeed.

    [JR: No, I don’t buy with this analysis. China isn’t ordering the United States to provide it coal. And if it did, that would probably make it less likely we would do so.]

  85. Wit's End says:

    Leland Palmer said…”But we have to keep the lights burning while we do so.”

    Yes, but we don’t HAVE to keep lights burning constantly. We don’t HAVE to have decorative Christmas lights on for weeks at a time. We don’t HAVE to dry our clothing in a dryer, or run filters on backyard pools, or operate boats and planes for nothing but amusement, or maintain huge lawns with mechanized power equipment.

    It’s time to ration fuel and restrict its use to essential purposes only. Yes, people will experience a different way of living, but it won’t necessarily be a bad thing. Some people will lose jobs – building lawn mowers, power blowers and weed whackers, for instance. But other jobs will take their place – gardening by hand, for example, which happens to be a great pleasure.

    In any event, everyone is going to experience an unimaginable dip in their standard of living anyway, if owning a lot of frivolous junk is your definition of a high standard of living. And since nothing less than a habitable planet is at stake, an all-out drastic effort to conserve fuel and transition to sustainable energy seems only logical.

  86. Rob says:

    good call ToddInNorway the focus on Obama is stupid. Partisanship is a two-headed coin. The new China syndrome where anything of value in third world U.S.A. is sucked through a hole that goes all the way to China. China races ahead with Thorium reactor development and strategic resource purchases while US corporations race to open production facilities there treasonously undercutting their own nation. When our grandchildren retreat to the Arctic Sea to survive, I’m sure the Chinese will be in charge. So as civilization passes its half-life and continues to decay, we can proudly point to our collective aspiration of mean stupid greed as the author.

  87. Rob says:

    Leland Palmer # 81.
    Yes yes let’s stick all the C02 in the ground where it can seep out all around us. When the energy crunch comes, nothing will stop us burning that coal — no matter who is in the White House, no matter if it spells the end of life as we know it. Most people go camping in the summer to “visit” nature, not to live there.

  88. Joan Savage says:

    To ToddInNorway (#84)

    Undoubtedly the level of debt to China affects the timing of Obama’s decision, but it is not necessarily the way it will be presented to the US.

    The Department of Interior is going to auction off the coal leases, free-market, not selling the coal directly to China. The highest bidders are going to be coal companies who expect to turn a good profit, which in this market can be a mix of customers.

    We can expect the market to include both Chinese companies that need the high-quality coal for steel, and the domestic companies with coal-burning operations that need to blend it with their high-sulfur coal.

    We need to look afresh at the map in the article. Visually it overwhelmingly shows connections between the Powder River Basin coal and domestic destinations where most of the coal could be blended for combustion end use. In contrast only one route leads west to Portland, Oregon.

    See previous posts (mine, #14, #59 #62, Deborah Stark (#73, #74) and Jim (#80) for development of the conversation about selling coal to China, including links to published pieces by in the LA Times and elsewhere.

  89. Joan Savage says:

    Incidentally, the rail routes west to Portland OR and Seattle WA that would be favored by coal exporters from Powder River Basin are also the rail routes favored for transport of Iowa corn for export.

    The western rail route is faster and cheaper than shipping Iowa corn down the Mississippi and through the Panama Canal as researched by the Iowa DOT.

  90. Joan Savage says:

    The link to the summary of Iowa corn’s rail and barge transport costs should be Iowa State University Extension’s page:

    In the past, competition for time on limited rail lines contributed to extended delays in delivery from/ to the port of San Diego. A burst of sales of coal and corn via western US ports may come with a similar risk.

  91. Mike Roddy says:

    Leland Palmer, I can’t believe you’re flogging CCS. Even Bush abandoned that one. It’s a simple technology if the geology is suitable, and not an experimental one. There’s only one problem: it makes coal way more expensive than wind and solar, which is what the fossil fuel companies don’t want. Have you not done your homework here?

    Mulga Mumblebrain, it’s intellectually lazy to demonize the US, even though I understand everybody’s exasperation with us. The rest of the world, including Australia, has not exactly been acting heroically. Yes, the US has to lead, for a variety of reasons, but note the coal figures above posted by Dr. Nellore of India.

    Speaking of which, Dr. Nellore, I don’t know where you got your PhD, but it wasn’t at a university that encouraged its students to evaluate data. IEA coal consumption projections to 2030 are based on current trends and supplies, and have no empirical reality. These charts encourage people who don’t bother to think that wind and solar are “unrealistic”, and cannot be implemented that fast.

    Wrong. It’s far easier to scale up solar, especially, than nuclear or CCS. All you need is land, metal, and concrete, since the technology to reflect the sun’s rays onto boilers in order to power generators is ridiculously simple and scalable.

    The rumor about being stuck with coal and gas has been planted in the media and the non thinking public by the same people who have been selling it to us. The US media swallows the IEA charts too, though in their case it is probably less laziness than goosestepping to the monsters who own the coal, oil, and gas companies.

  92. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Rob-

    We have one problem, right now.

    That one problem is so important, it makes all the others trivial.

    That problem is runaway global warming, destabilization of the climate, leading as a worst case scenario to a runaway positive feedback crisis and methane catastrophe which turns the earth into a twin of Venus.

    Let’s solve that one problem, so that we can be around to solve all the others.

    I laugh at groundwater contamination, from injected CO2.

    I laugh at nuclear accidents.

    If we want to solve this problem, we have to stop being so damned picky about which solutions we can accept, and accept all solutions which solve the one problem we have, which dwarfs all of the others.

    Much has been made about the volume of injected CO2 that CCS would inject, and the amount of pipeline necessary.

    We already deep inject a similar amount of contaminated water, chemical and mining wastes, and brine into the earth, and most of us don’t even know about these injection wells.

    EPA: Class II injection wells

    Class II injection wells inject about 2 billion gallons of brine every day, produced as a result of oil drilling operations. A billion tons of coal burned each year in the U.S. would produce about 3 billion tons of CO2. Two billion gallons of brine per day, at 8 lbs of brine per gallon equals about 3 billion tons of brine or water injected per year. So the amounts of CO2 produced, by weight and the amounts of brine or water already deep injected by Class II injection wells are similar, by weight. By volume, though, the amount of supercritical CO2 injected would be greater, if it was injected above three kilometers in depth. Below three kilometers in depth, supercritical CO2 is more dense than water or brine, if the pressure in the formation is equal to hydrostatic pressure.

    So the insurmountable difficulties of CCS are not as insurmountable as most people think, IMO. A different form of carbon would be better- carbonate or bicarbonate- but solving the runaway greenhouse problem gives us time to find better solutions.

    We have one problem. Runaway positive feedback driven destabilization of the climate leading to a methane catastrophe is that problem. We need to solve that one problem, and if we have to break a few eggs in making that omelet, so be it.

  93. Christophe says:

    I’m with Question (#70). The Best is the enemy of the Good, and the current trend, if sustained, will wean us off of fossil fuels well before 2050. Does anything else matter?

  94. Harry Meyer says:

    We need power! Who among you are unplugging from the grid? Who has an alternate energy source? Perhaps he’s anticipating the shutdown of some dangerous nuclear reactors? Come on, Obama is intellegent, but that does not mean he can perform a miracle!

  95. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi Mike-

    Combining biomass with CCS results in carbon negative production of electricity. Wind and solar are carbon neutral, at best. The carbon negative aspects of BECCS are crucial to arriving at a carbon neutral society, since many human activities produce greenhouse gases. Since BECCS is carbon negative, it should receive two or three times as many carbon credits as solar or wind, for example, per amount of electricity produced.

    Whether BECCS is more costly than solar or wind depends on how we do it. If a gas turbine topping cycle using gasified biomass or charcoal was added to the power plants, the costs for BECCS and solar thermal or wind would be very similar, or lower for BECCS, with increased parasitic losses for CCS balanced or exceeded by increased efficiency of the combined cycle retrofit.

    It also doesn’t have to be a mutually exclusive situation, IMO. Adding solar parabolic troughs or power towers to existing coal fired power plants can help them reduce their greenhouse gas production. Adding a CCS retrofit to the power plants, as can be done with oxy-fuel combustion, makes them more and more carbon neutral. Progressively supplying more biomass or charcoal to the power plants starts to turn them into carbon negative BECCS plants.

    Biomass can be roughly as cheap as coal, or cheaper. River barge transport of biomass or charcoal can be cheaper than rail transport. Dedicated biomass plantations, planted upstream of coal fired power plants on the rivers that generally supply them with cooling water, can use gravity assisted river transport of biomass or charcoal to reduce the cost of transportation.

    Obama and Chu have it right, IMO. We have one main problem- runaway climate change- and we are going to need all of the technologies available to make that transition to clean energy.

  96. Mike Roddy says:

    Leland, thanks for your detailed response, and I appreciate that we’re on the same page regarding the urgency of the need to become carbon neutral. Hansen’s book made this very clear.

    I’ve done a little published work on the carbon cycle as it applies to wood products, not biomass fuel:,

    Be careful about carbon capture claims with respect to any fuel crops, as we learned with corn ethanol and I discovered in my logging research. Forestry science shows that only 15% of the carbon on a logging site ends up in wood products. I don’t know the ratio for cellulosic boiler fuel, but doubt industry claims here. There are numerous ancillary carbon emissions from industrial logging and farming that are not well known to the public or even many scientists.

    Charcoal may be a different story, though I’m not well educated about it, but even here carbon is emitted during combustion. I’d suggest you do more digging here.

    That being said, the “all of the above” strategy is OK in principle, due to the urgency of our predicament. We should, however, avoid sending resources to failed technologies such as nuclear, which was recently granted $52 billion in loan guarantees, compared to less than $3 billion for solar. My conclusion is that government support for fossil fuel CCS, nuclear, and biomass derives from interest group influence, especially the fossil fuel companies. Diverting resources from actual solutions like wind and solar perpetuates coal, gas, and oil.

    Considering the quality of this country’s wind and solar resources, it would really not be that big a deal to transition to them completely, by enabling the market via land grants, loan guarantees, research funding, feed in tariffs, and other means. We could do it in a decade, and it would be problem solved, at least in this country. Combined with this effort would be a carbon tax and a fair charge for fossil fuel externalities, including damage to public health, ozone crop damage, aquifer and stream degradation, and much else.

    It’s a great idea to explore all possibilities, as you suggest. It appears to me that we already have two proven winners, however, and if they are not quite competitive today they can expect to be soon.

  97. MarkF says:

    – coal to china;
    – deepwater drilling;
    – no legislation of any significance;
    – no attempt to get legislation;
    – sabotaging international attempts to deal with the problem; (Copenhagen conference- Wikileaks)

    [JR: Well, that’s a stretch.]

    – pipeline from canadian oil/tar fields;
    – Tim de christopher going to jail

    his position on this
    seems pretty clear to me.

    [JR: Bigger increase in clean energy funding than all previous presidents combined. Biggest boost in fuel economy standards and hence biggest cut in GHGs ever. EPA endangermnet finding.]

  98. Jim says:

    Leland, yes you have come up with many suggestions. But with reference to the coal options – CCS plus deep injection of carbon, or adding oxy-fuel conbustion to existing plants – based on the indusrty costing of these options, the coal options are the most expensive per kwh by a wide margin.

    And what these PRB leases are about is shipping the coal to China – which will not be paying to employ these technologies widely in the near term. These PRB leases are about making coal cheaper and more widely available long BEFORE its carbon is sequestered.

    Obama and Salazar made the same grave political and environmental error with their greenlighting of offshore oil and nuclear, and throwing federal resources behind them, at just the wrong time.

  99. OregonStream says:

    Not too surprising really. Since we have no carbon pricing system in place, the world is still going to use lots of coal. Meanwhile the Administration needs to continue it’s efforts to look good in the exports department. As long as there’s no real framework in the world’s largest economies for cutting emissions in absolute terms, resource-rich nations aren’t going to let potential wealth stay in the ground.

  100. slect says:

    A ray of hope: in Germany, “the opposition anti-nuclear Greens doubled their voter share in Baden-Wuerttemberg state and seemed poised to win their first-ever state governorship”.
    Greens were boosted by the Fukushima disaster as well as by incredibly clumsy efforts by Chancelor Merkel to surf on the Germans’ anti-nuclear sentiment.

  101. Rice Dog says:

    One of the only good things about living in California is that the people have the initiative process.
    In order to regain democratic control of our government, the private $$$ influence must be removed from influencing our “representatives”. We know they would never vote such a law into the books. If we have a national constitutional convention, the establishment of a national citizen initiative process would take the self preservation power out of the legislators hands.

  102. Prokaryotes says:

    Coal Ash Is More Radioactive than Nuclear Waste
    By burning away all the pesky carbon and other impurities, coal power plants produce heaps of radiation

  103. MaxShelby says:

    One has to admire the Pacific Northwest and it’s move to rid itself of coal-fired power plants:

  104. Marion Delgado says:

    no, as concentrated as it is, coal fly ash is not more radioactive than nuclear waste – one reason the former is just left out on the ground and the latter is always contained. Should we start making bar bets with nuclear proponents on this stuff?

  105. Pythagoras says:

    #84 ToddInNorway stated:
    “After reading 74 comments, I see that not one of you understands the connection with China….”

    JR’s response:
    “[JR: No, I don’t buy with this analysis. China isn’t ordering the United States to provide it coal. And if it did, that would probably make it less likely we would do so.]”

    I’d like to see more of a reasoned response from Joe than a handwave that the posted comment is immaterial.

    Certainly the Chinese have more than enough American dollars to invest in US companies. Logic would dictate that eventually all those paper dollars sent to China will need to be converted to something real and tangible.

  106. Just so that you don’t think all of the crazy coal policies are in the USA, the Australian Government is currently considering (and will probably approve) a coal mine with an indicated and inferred resource of 7.8 billion tonnes of thermal coal. If that amount of coal was burnt it would, alone, add around 1 ppm CO2 to the atmosphere. The mine is proposed to operate for 150 years: see

  107. MaxShelby says:

    US EPA Office of the Inspector General March 23, 2011
    “EPA Promoted the Use Coal Ash Products With Incomplete Risk Information”

    This report is scathing and eye opening. Why did the EPA rely in part on the “umbrella lobbying group” of the American Coal Ash Association to “write the rules?”

    More mining equals more coal waste, where is is going to go? What are other countries doing with it?

  108. Morocco Bama says:

    One thing, and it’s a very important thing, to consider is that if you support, and push for, carbon pricing and a carbon tax, or Cap n Trade, in a system as corrupt and destructive as the one we have, and operate in and under, the system of dominance and subservience of which Merrelyn on the other thread points out, it’s the poor and oppressed who are going to take it in the pants, and suffer as a result. The Plutocrats will always find a way to transfer the pain and suffering down the ladder… the bitter end.

    The system must be dismantled……it will not produce, nor allow a solution to itself.

  109. Mike # 22 says:

    The decision to defer regulation of coal ash was made over twenty years ago. There is so much of it, and the heavy metals and radionuclides are at relatively low levels, that dealing this material has been avoided. The coal industry finds it cheaper to recycle this material into roofing, concrete, drywall, soil amendments, traction control materials, engineered fill for roads and buildings, and the rest piles up in various places or gets stuffed down old coal mines.

    After decades of avoiding this issue, the EPA is now at the “proposed rule” stage at this point, begun last year. It is not clear if they will put forward regulations in 2011.

    The best write up I’ve seen on the problems with current handling of coal ash is here:

    BTW, the debate on how much radiation that the coal generation industry releases into the environment doesn’t usually recognize the quantities of uranium and radium present in coal ash materials used, for example, as traction control materials on slippery roads.

  110. Lewis C says:

    Of the three views I noted of Obama’s reason for near total silence on climate and for boosting US coal production with this massive new extraction licensing, niether the first, that he’s simply too dumb to comprehend the climate issue, nor the third, that he’s actually meeting the demands of a policy of total standoff with China over a climate treaty, seem to have got much support in this long thread.

    This leaves the corruption option, that he’s some kind of a covert Manchurian candidate for shadowy far right forces, as the most popular explanation. If this view became settled here it would be somewhat problematic, not simply in swamping rational discussion of what can be done to affect his choices, (ie, nothing), but also because it would diminish CP effectively to the level of a conspiracy site.

    This would seem to me a damn shame given its unique and excellect coverage of the climate issue, for its reputation for generally rational discussion is surely one of its most valuable assets in attracting new readers.

    So is anyone at all up for reconsidering the third option: that Obama’s simply playing ruthless high stakes poker with China ? Or is it just too far fetched to believe that a US president would ever adopt a foreign policy of escalating a threat of mutually assured destruction to advance US interests against a rival power ?



  111. BBHY says:

    I remember when we were talking about Obama pivoting on Climate Change. Will he pivot, when will he pivot, how will he pivot, etc.

    Well, he pivoted all right, but in the wrong direction!

  112. Sasparilla says:

    #112 BBHY – very well said.

    #102 Rice Dog – I think you’re totally right about the absolute corrupting influence of private $$$ in the US political process and as you say our “representatives” would never vote a law to remove that private money / control out of the process.

    A national citizen initiative process would be a godsend – however I also believe these same political powers would never let such a rule (or a rule to eliminate private money from politics) be created at a constitutional convention (cause the political parties would be the ones in charge of what gets written – they’d probably make things even worse if given the chance to write things into law that the Supreme Court can’t reject, which I believe constitutional amendments cannot be weighed – can you imagine what the GOP would try to put in at this point?).

  113. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Mike Roddy #91, you are correct-the rest of the non-US ruling elites of the world have hardly covered themselves with glory. But I think that it is unarguable that not only is the US the global hegemon and that it controls a global Empire unprecedented in scope and interference in the affairs of other countries, but also that the US ruling elites are the primary locus of action to de-rail global co-operation on anthropogenic climate change. While I admire clear-thinking, rational, humane Americans as much as any nationality, vast numbers of your citizens are a real menace to themselves, the rest of humanity and all our descendants, including their own. And I firmly believe that the ruling US capitalist elite, the focus of all power in the US, are as dangerous and wicked a group as has existed in human history.

  114. Leif says:

    The three options presented by Lewis C, @ 111 & 17:

    Earlier I voted for the Manchurian Candidate option much to my dislike. I have read thru all the comments and searched for a hidden clue but alas am still stuck with one of the three losers. A few weighed in on giving the guy a break in that he has done a lot under the circumstances. If we accept that option then the problem becomes that we commentators as well as Joe and others are just letting our paranoia run amok and we have lots of time to “fix” everything. That option has more holes than a sieve.

    This thinking stuff is just not working out, guess it’s back to the garden and and eat worms for this kid.