The dirty truth about liquid coal

Hummer

Courtesy morguefile

 

By Elizabeth Martin Perera

Converting coal to liquid fuel is currently being touted by Big Coal as a cure-all to our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. But what the industry fails to mention is that global warming emissions from liquid coal are nearly twice that of regular gasoline. The inconvenient truth is that coal-based diesel is so much dirtier than gasoline that a hybrid running on it would emit as much pollution as a Hummer H3 running on regular gas.

Even dirtier than standard liquid-coal facilities is the waste-to-liquid coal plant being proposed in economically depressed Schuylkill County. The facility would be the first coal-to-liquid plant in the country, and would convert 4,711 tons of highly toxic waste coal into 5,000 barrels of diesel fuel each day.

Since Schuylkill County is already home to five other coal-fired power plants and the proposed waste-to-liquid plant would emit mercury equivalent to three or four of these plants, area residents would be exposed to unusually high levels of toxins—a fact that leads to another inconvenient truth the industry would like to gloss over: the toxic burden of the plant would be carried by nearby communities with poverty rates significantly higher than state and national averages, along with a local prison that houses a population that is 69% black and Hispanic. Despite organized local opposition, these citizens may not be able to muster the political clout and the financial resources necessary to stop the project.

Estimated to cost $612 million, the plant is currently awaiting a $100 million dollar subsidy from the US Department of Energy, as well as $465 million in loan guarantees and $47 million in tax credits from the state. If successful, this heavily-subsidized demonstration project could pave the way for many more of these highly polluting refineries.

Elizabeth Martin Perera is a climate policy specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.