Energy News | Coal or Natural Gas? – from

The U.S. uses a lot of oil. With only 5% of the world’s population, the U.S. consumes 25% of total worldwide oil production. In 2009, America sent $265 billion overseas for oil. In 2008 oil nearly hit $150/barrel and gasoline was over $4.50/gallon in many parts of the country. The U.S. foreign oil bill in 2008 was a gargantuan $465 billion. America obviously has an oil crisis. Combined with fiscal and monetary mismanagement by the Federal Reserve and a dysfunctional Congress, the oil crisis has led to a severe economic crisis, a jobs crisis, and a country that has saddled future generations of Americans with a horrendous debt load.

One doesn’t need an economist or a Federal Reserve study to know what to do. Simple logic would dictate that America must reduce foreign oil imports and adopt a strategic long-term comprehensive energy policy.

Meantime, global warming grabs the headlines and the talk is all about solar and wind energy. While I certainly support wind and solar energy, they produce electricity, not gasoline. Since 70% of American oil consumption is used in the transportation sector, solar and wind energy won’t reduce American dependence on foreign oil unless electric cars (EVs) are deployed. However, fully electric cars have their own set of problems:

Ø Range – the U.S. is a very large country.

Ø Power – batteries will run down quickly in mountainous terrain or for consumers pulling boats, trailers, and other recreational vehicles.

Ø Expense – fully electric cars will be very expensive and the middle class has already been whacked – who can afford a new fully electric car?

Ø Battery dependence – many of the elements used to build electric batteries, like lithium, are not found in large quantities in the U.S. We may find ourselves trading our foreign oil dependence for foreign battery dependence.

Ø Availability – where are they?

It is clear we’ll need all alternatives to the solar/wind/electric car architecture if we want to significantly reduce our foreign oil imports over the next 5-10 years.

So, if it’s going to take many years to build out solar, wind, and nuclear power infrastructures – what’s the plan to reduce foreign oil imports? According to President Obama and U.S. Energy Secretary Chu – the answer is “clean coal” and electric vehicles. Many others (including your correspondent) believe natural gas is a superior solution. So it’s game on. Should it be natural gas or coal? This is the big and important battle being fought today. So, who is winning and why?

If you’re a coal producer or a coal based electric utility executive, you’ve got to be feeling pretty good these days. You’ve been effectively subsidized since the Carter administration and as a result you’re sitting on mountains of cash and enjoy broad and deep political cover. President Obama and U.S. Energy Secretary Chu believe (or at least support…there is a difference…) the myth of oxymoronic “clean coal”. Despite the coal fly-ash release at the TVA plant in Kingston, TN (probably the worst environmental disaster in the history of the continental United States) most people have been conned into believing if we simply sequester coal’s CO2 emissions in the Earth wah-la! – we have “clean coal”.

Of course this is ridiculous because the inconvenient truth about coal is the toxic heavy metal particulates which must be dealt with after combustion. One “solution” is to simply release this toxic sludge into the Tennessee River and destroy it for generations to come. Apparently this is OK, because the country doesn’t seem to be worried about it (or acid rain, or mercury in their water, or the smog over Knoxville, etc. etc). In addition to these advantages, coal executives must also be content with the mountain of legislation that has been passed over the years at the EPA and elsewhere that effectively keep natural gas vehicles and natural gas conversion kits either unavailable or very expensive.

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