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Mole's Progressive Democrat

The Progressive Democrat Newsletter grew out of the frustration of the 2004 election. Originally intended for New York City progressives, its readership is now national. For anyone who wants to be alerted by email whenever this newsletter is updated (usually weekly), please send your email address and let me know what state you live in (so I can keep track of my readership).

Location: Brooklyn, New York, United States

I am a research biologist in NYC. Married with two kids living in Brooklyn.

  • Help end world hunger
  • Thursday, July 23, 2009

    Progressive Democrat Issue 221

    This week I am focusing on coal. Coal is among the most polluting sources of energy and in a warming world makes little sense. Additionally, the mining of coal is also hugely destructive and polluting (remember the recent massive coal ash spill in Tennessee). America needs energy, but we need to focus on reducing energy use through energy efficiency (this saves money as well as energy) and replacing pollutiing energy sources with clean energy sources. That is why I emphasize biodiesel and other biofuels, wind and solar as well as energy efficiency. I also emphasize, as I do in this issue, fighting to stop new coal-burning plants and new coal mining projects.

    Again, energy efficiency is the best thing you can do to save money and energy. This can include many things, like switching to compact fluorescent bulbs, reusing plastic bags, reducing the red meat and milk in your diet (chicken and eggs are better...fish generally is not) and cutting back on tobacco and alcohol use, taking public transportation, biking, walking and carpooling, turning off your TV or computer and reading a book... All of these saves you money in these tough times while also reducing your carbon footprint. And in some cases improves your health. These sound small but they really add up both in terms of energy savings AND in terms of saving you money. Switching to compact fluorescent bulbs and switching most of your protein consumption from beef and cheese to chicken and eggs alone would considerable reduce your carbon footprint. And changing your transportation habits is a huge deal. People in NYC have on average almost a third of the carbon footprint of the average American mainly because they depend largely on public transportation (though smaller living spaces is also a factor in our smaller carbon footprints).

    I should also note that I have actually made money carefully investing in alternative energy companies. This is a new industry and that means a great deal of money can be made as it emerges, similar to the high tech boom when it first surged...although also keep in mind that during the high tech boom there were also many companies that never made it and represent lost money. But right now is a good time to invest in the most promising companies (like Sunpower and Western Wind Energy, to name two I have done well with).

    Energy efficiency almost always saves lots of money in the long run. Other changes cost money, but sometimes not as much as you might think. And combining money saving energy efficiency changes with some changes that cost money can reduce your carbon footprint with little or no net increase in cost. We did this when we cut our energy bill by about a third when we switched to compact fluorescent bulbs, then spent a small fraction of that savings by switching to clean energy (mainly wind) to run our electricity in our home. Both changes were easy (you can switch to alternative energy as your source for electricity through your existing energy company in most states) and overall we still saved a great deal of money. These changes combined with the fact we live in NYC so can use public transportation and so don't own cars makes our carbon footprint quite low compared to the average American (less than a quarter of the average). And all of these changes together still save money and overall are convenient. I also do more, like carbon offset, but the small changes that I list that overall save us money, if more Americans implemented them, would go a long way to mitigating global warming when combined with legislation like Congress recently passed. Yes Congress passed a weak bill, but it was a big step foward anyway, and your own actions to save energy as well as money can, collectively, be a second big step foward.

    And the actions I highlight in this issue to block particularly bad coal projects helps to prevent America from taking two steps backwards even as we take one or two steps forward.

    From the Union of Concerned Scientists:

    If the United States continues burning coal the way it does today, it will be impossible to achieve the reductions in heat-trapping emissions needed to prevent dangerous levels of global warming. Coal-fired power plants represent the nation’s largest source of carbon dioxide (CO2, the main heat-trapping gas causing climate change), and coal plant emissions must be cut substantially if we are to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the worst consequences of climate change.

    Treading A Dangerous Path
    Yet despite the urgent need to reduce CO2 emissions, the United States is poised to increase its emissions greatly—by building many more coal plants. Virtually all of these new plants, like existing ones, would lack so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology—equipment that would allow a plant to capture CO2 before it is released and then store it underground.

    CCS is still an emerging technology. It has the potential to substantially reduce CO2 emissions from coal plants, but it also faces many challenges. In its current form the technology would greatly increase the cost of building and running coal plants while greatly reducing their power output. In addition, careful selection and monitoring of geologic storage (or “sequestration”) sites, and the development of regulatory standards and mechanisms to guide this process, will be needed to minimize the environmental risks associated with CO2 leakage (including groundwater contamination).

    For CCS to play a major role in reducing CO2 emissions, an enormous new infrastructure must be constructed to capture, process, and transport large quantities of CO2. And although CCS has been the subject of considerable research and analysis, it has yet to be demonstrated in the form of commercial-scale, fully integrated projects at coal-fired power plants. Such demonstration projects are needed to determine the relative costeffectiveness of CCS compared with other carbon-reducing strategies, and to assess its environmental safety—particularly at the very large scale of deployment needed for CCS to contribute significantly to the fight against global warming.

    Already, the United States gets about half of its electricity from coal plants that lack CCS. Building more coal plants without CCS would not only increase the risk of irreversible and dangerous climate change but also increase our nation’s dependence on a fuel whose mining and use cause other environmental damages, human health problems, and deadly accidents. Furthermore, an expansion of our coal fleet could inhibit the development of inherently cleaner, safer, and more sustainable technologies such as energy efficiency and renewable power (e.g., wind, solar).

    The coal industry is even planning to develop new markets for coal in the form of liquid and gas fuels for transportation and other purposes. “Liquid coal” would increase net CO2 emissions even if the conversion process employed CCS technology, and would greatly increase CO2 emissions without it. Coal-to-gas technology could either increase CO2 emissions or decrease them depending on whether it displaces other uses of coal.

    The article continues and outlines recommendations for America regarding energy and coal. Among those recommendations from the Union of Concerned Scientists are:

    Stop building new coal-fired power plants without CCS. Each new coal plant built without CCS represents a major long-term source of CO2. It is not safe to assume that new coal plants built today without CCS could cost-effectively add it later, because the cost of CCS (considerable even when included in the plant’s original design) would be much higher if added as a retrofit. The federal government should therefore adopt a strong performance standard limiting CO2 emissions from new coal plants, which will prevent the construction of any plant not employing CCS from the outset. Until such a policy is put in place, state regulators should evaluate proposed plants using a projected range of prices those plants would likely have to pay for their CO2 emissions under a cap-and-trade program...

    Significantly increase both deployment of and R&D for energy efficiency and renewable energy. States and the federal government should adopt policies such as renewable electricity standards, energy efficiency programs, and appliance efficiency standards that would accelerate the deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies. The federal government should also greatly expand its R&D and demonstration funding for these technologies (including energy storage technologies). Federal research money has long focused disproportionately on coal and nuclear power, greatly underfunding inherently cleaner technologies despite their tremendous potential. Given the urgency of the threat posed by global warming, this underfunding must be corrected.

    In combination, these deployment and R&D investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy will minimize the near-term cost of reducing carbon emissions, buy time until the cost-effectiveness of CCS can be demonstrated at commercial scale, ensure a diverse set of long-term low-carbon options, and avoid perpetuating the undue advantage coal has long had over cleaner energy technologies.

    The recommendations in this issue are in the spirit of these two recommendations.

    Here is this week's newsletter:


    Stop Blackstone Coal

    Stop the Peabody Mine Expansion on Black Mesa

    Loretta Sanchez comes out for Public Option

    Brooklyn, NY Focus

    Queens, NY Focus

    Bronx, NY Focus

    Rochester, NY Focus


    Silicon Valley, CA Focus

    Orange County, CA Focus

    San Diego, CA Focus


    Passaic County, NJ Focus

    Sussex County, NJ Focus

    Warren County, NJ Focus


    Dallas County, TX Focus

    Austin/Travis County, TX Events

    Houston/Harris County, TX. Events


    Georgia Action for Health Care

    Georgia Democrats Work

    Coweta County, GA Focus



    Pennsylvania Focus: Stop Blackstone Coal




    Nevada Focus: Stop Blackstone Coal


    Maricopa County, AZ Focus: Blood on Sheriff Arpaio's Hands

    Arizona Focus: NAVAJO GREEN JOBS





    Jacksonville, FL Campaign Training






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