Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Liquid Coal is A Really Bad Idea

Updated Below:

The coal industry is getting ready to cash in on the liquid coal boondoggle and you need to let your Congress critters know that having tax payer money pumped into this program is insanity. This is just another way that the carbon lobby wants all you to pay them to pollute. is also getting a petition up and you can go here to sign it.

The facts are that liquid coal releases twice as much green house gases than does gasoline and it takes a ton of coal to produce two barrels of liquid coal and four gallons of water for every gallon of fuel. Mining coal is a dirty process and the environmental impact of the mining coupled with the additional green house gas burden is unthinkable.


Congress is rushing through a package that could lock us into liquid coal as our country's new energy source for transportation. For every mile driven, coal-based fuels produce as much as twice as many greenhouse gases as petroleum.2 That means even a Prius would drive like a Hummer.

The coal industry has been lobbying for this break for years, and many in Congress don't understand the facts.

"Liquid coal would be a disaster in our fight against the climate crisis. Congress should vote against tax breaks and subsidies for coal."

The legislation would take billions in taxpayer dollars to build up to 10 more dirty coal plants, provide taxpayer subsidies when the fuel can't compete on the open market, and guarantee that the government will buy this fuel no matter what.3

The industry promises to clean up after itself, but "clean coal" doesn't exist yet—it's pure fiction. While some technology is being tested to capture the greenhouse gas before it goes into the air, no one knows if it will work. But the plants will be built regardless.

To make matters worse, the financial outlook on this technology is shaky, which means taxpayers could be left holding the bag. According to an MIT study, we could spend $70 billion to replace just 10 percent of current gasoline use.4 And by the time we bring the technology to market, it is likely that cheaper, cleaner fuels will be available for less money.

These snake oil salesmen are in the Capitol in force—selling Congress a line that kicking our oil habit is easy if we just commit billions in taxpayer money to coal. And some in Congress are buying it—even folks who have been with us thus far on the climate crisis. But with this bill, they're gambling with the future of our planet.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has this to say about the proposal:

The coal industry is touting a plan to transform millions of tons of coal into diesel and other liquid fuels—an expensive, inefficient process that releases large quantities of heat-trapping carbon dioxide into our air. Fortunately, better, cleaner options exist to reduce America's dependence on oil: efficiency, smart growth, and renewable fuels.5

An OpEd in the Lexington Herald-Leader, in the heart of coal country, put it this way:

Instead of propping up a liquid-coal industry that market forces have long rejected, the government should harness the market to advance the twin goals of energy independence and reversing global warming.6

We need less coal, not more. And we need government support to go toward developing the commercial scale technology for truly clean alternatives—solar and wind. These energy sources are clean and abundant, and these industries create jobs and can be a boon to the economy.

Updated 6/7/07 at 9:01 EDT to elucidate the Prius versus Hummer comparison that was challenged by a commenter.

Based on comparisons of greenhouse gas emissions of a Honda Accord Hybrid and a Hummer H3 (, and where
liquid coal produces 47 lbs CO2 per gallon and regular gasoline 25 lbs CO2 per gallon.

To be completely accurate it was a Honda Hybrid and an Hummer H3.


1. "Lawmakers look at coal to break oil dependence", Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2007,0,7769228,full.story?coll=la-home-center

2. "Coal-To-Liquid Fuel Plant Plan Advances", The Houston Chronicle, May 31, 2007

2. "Lawmakers promote coal as an 'alternative fuel'", The Austin American-Statesman, May 29, 2007

3. " Billion-dollar boondoggle," The Roanoke Time, June 5, 2007

4. "Why Liquid Coal Is Not a Viable Option to Move America Beyond Oil," Report by Natural Resources Defense Council, February, 2007

5. ""Liquid coal a new version of snake oil" The Lexington Herald-Leader, June 3, 2007

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