Quenching Our Thirst For Fuel With…Coal?!?

Check out our Move America Beyond Oil web site for a funny new cartoon by Mark Fiore about an oldie but baddie: Coal as a liquid fuel.

You read right. The coal industry wants us to run our cars and planes with energy that produces even more pollution than gasoline.

This isn’t a new idea, as Jeff Goodell explains in his book Big Coal: “The Nazis used basically the same process that was commonly used to make “town gas” [a 19th century fuel for lighting] but added a secondary chemical process…creating a petroleum substitute. It was a complex, laborious process, but it worked well enough to fuel Hitler’s dream of world domination…”

Various estimates find that use of this substitute would double global warming pollution compared with conventional gasoline as you can see here and most recently here. And this is just what comes out of the tailpipe! Consider the consequences closer to the source of this fossil, namely increased mining and strip mining. This often includes the removal of actual mountaintops as illustrated by the seeming moonscape below.

(Photo Credit: Daniel Shea) 

Why is this happening? Near-$100 oil prices are partly to blame, this sends a signal to the marketplace that substitutes may be in order. I’ve written about this here and (with NRDC colleagues) here.

But it’s not that simple. This is mostly about special interests sidling up to the trough on Capitol Hill as well as coal-state capitols, seeking subsidies courtesy of taxpayers like you and me. Fiore’s cartoonish depiction of that fact would be funnier if it weren’t so true, as you can see in Illinois where coal industry lobbyists have a lot of clout, and here in D.C. as a slew of lobbyists head to Congress looking for handouts in the farm bill.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want my money fueling global warming. The good news is that without public bucks this pollution parade will have a very hard time getting started.

About the Authors

Deron Lovaas

Director, EEFA, Resilient Communities, Healthy People & Thriving Communities Program

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