`Clean Coal:’ Far From Reality

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Coal piles sit at Foresight Energy Sugar Camp coal mine in Benton, Illinois.

Republican Mitt Romney said at the first of the presidential debates this week: “I like coal. I’m going to make sure we can continue to burn clean coal.”

President Barack Obama has voiced support for clean coal as well.

What do they mean by “clean coal?”

There’s no universally agreed upon definition.

Modern coal-fired power plants release far less particulate, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions than older coal plants. So if those pollutants are the benchmark, then any coal plant built in the past decade or so can be considered “clean.”

However, coal plants remain one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon dioxide. If reduced GHG emissions are the benchmark, then “clean coal” is far from being a reality.

Bloomberg Government published “The Twilight of Coal-Fired Power?” in May 2012, a study that looked at the future of coal-fired power after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new regulations aimed at reducing GHG emissions.

The study concluded that the proposed EPA regulation would ban the construction of new coal-fired power plants that don’t reduce GHG emissions. It also concluded that such technology was unproven commercially and more than 50 percent more expensive compared with conventional coal.

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