Poor old coal. It takes a beating in some politically motivated circles, with the green crowd lambasting “dirty coal” and calling for the elimination of the black diamond as an energy source.
How foolish. It would be laughable if it weren’t for the possibility of U.S. clean air standards being enacted too quickly and without the appropriate research and development funding for reachable clean-coal technologies. Coal generates 40 percent of the nation’s electricity – the largest percentage of any energy source – and it cannot be quickly eliminated without disastrous results.
The rolling blackouts experienced on the East Coast during the recent heat wave won’t be unusual if coal-supplied electricity is suddenly halted. Or limited to the East Coast. And to those encouraging a quick changeover from coal to natural gas as an energy source because of its lower costs and cleaner emissions, we add a note of caution.
It may be cleaner and cheaper now, but if we become overly dependent on natural gas, if it fills the 40 percent slice occupied by coal, there will come a time when supply tightens and prices skyrocket. And the time that might have been spent on researching, developing and implementing clean coal technologies will have been wasted.
It’s a good thing our freshman congressman, Democrat Bill Enyart from Belleville, has the same appreciation for coal long shown by his Republican colleague, John Shimkus of Collinsville.
They understand the value of the coal beneath the land of Southern Illinois – a 100-year supply that has the energy equivalence of all the oil controlled by Saudi Arabia.
Wind and solar sources cannot possibly take the place of coal, not with existing technologies or those forecast for the horizon. The nuclear energy industry has been at a standstill in the U.S. since the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island generating station in Pennsylvania. And the inevitability of supply and demand issues argue against putting all our eggs in the natural gas basket.
Coal production is vital to the economy of Southern Illinois, and it needs to remain a source for the nation’s energy. With the development of technologies that create clean-coal options, the fuel beneath our feet can be safely used in the U.S. – instead of being mined and shipped overseas for combustion that pays no heed to our nation’s clean air standards.
Let’s find a way to use our coal cleanly in the U.S. With increased federal support for clean coal research and development, much of it ideally suited to Southern Illinois and the SIU Coal Research Center, our nation stands a chance of achieving energy independence within the lifetimes of many Americans.