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Published May 08, 2009, 06:46 AM

What others think: U.S. must invest in clean coal research

If America wants to remain a world economic leader, it needs to continue to invest in clean coal research and make a reasoned, economically prudent shift to new technologies and lower emissions of greenhouse gases. The tide, however, seems to be going the other direction, at least in popular opinion in urban areas on the nation’s coasts and among environmental groups and their lobbyists.

By: The Bismarck Tribune, The Jamestown Sun

If America wants to remain a world economic leader, it needs to continue to invest in clean coal research and make a reasoned, economically prudent shift to new technologies and lower emissions of greenhouse gases.

The tide, however, seems to be going the other direction, at least in popular opinion in urban areas on the nation’s coasts and among environmental groups and their lobbyists.

North Dakota’s coal-fired energy industry faces a challenge: the possibility of a federal cap and trade strategy as a way to limit CO2 emissions.

On the surface, it’s a science issue and a health issue. Global warming, it is claimed, could cook the planet. But at its core, it’s about politics, and a ground swell of American public opinion calling for immediate action to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. Many pro-green people want a tax on carbon, more specifically coal, or cap and trade. They want it now. And they are increasingly convinced that there can be no such thing as clean coal.

Nor does it matter to them that coal-fired plants have made huge strides in reducing emission, and are now only slowed at the task by the need to develop new and practical technologies to further scrub what goes up the stacks. It makes no difference that wind, solar and nuclear energy are not ready to step into coal’s harness to pull the nation’s energy load. And it apparently does not matter that people will pay the price for this kind of shortsighted federal action when they pay heating and cooling bills, and when the price of goods and services goes up to cover energy costs for business and industry.

When it comes to coal and a healthy environment, given practical economic and scientific limitations, it cannot be one or the other. It must be, as always, in that gray area between. We need to take care of the planet. We need to have environmentally sound practices and be more energy efficient. Emissions must be slowed. New advances in clean coal technology will become more practical and cost effective. And we must produce enough energy to meet demand at a price people can afford.

The message to (U.S. Interior) Secretary (Ken) Salazar: America needs a national energy policy that provides balance between traditional and alternative sources of energy aimed at energy self-sufficiency. And any carbon tax or cap and trade strategy needs to not punish people and the industry, but provide incentives for cleaner energy production, whether it be wind, solar, nuclear, oil, gas or coal driven. Timing is everything.

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