A reader writes:

I get the fact that you don’t like coal. However, what do you propose in it’s place?

Public awareness regarding the issues surrounding coal, for starters. The coal/utility industry’s ad campaign and it’s promotion of “clean coal” is doing nothing more than slowing the transition to clean renewable sources of energy. Yes, some will argue that coal is a cheap abundant resource but the true costs of its extraction, processing and waste management (coal slurry waste disposal) are extremely high, especially the environmental cost. Our use of coal leads to ravaged mountains, air pollution, toxic emissions and polluted water supplies.  Coal mining is massively more invasive to the environment than oil or gas drilling and the amount of toxins and toxic by-products associated with its processing is astonishing to say the least.
Consider that, Bank of America through it’s lending practices is influencing the coal industry to rethink their coal extraction processes. BofA’s decision acknowledges the coal industry must change and the extracting methods used by the  industry should “minimize environmental impacts”.

Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.

If we must use coal and we do, there are techniques the power industry could apply to keep much of the environmental cost low.  Effective capture technologies do exist and they have been used widely around the globe, in the manufacture of chemicals such as fertilizer, and in the purification of natural gas.  Canada for example, has  experience with CO2 storage in their operations to purify natural gas, we us the technology in the US to boost oil production. Granted nothing is perfect but to continue the use of coal as an energy source with no environmental regulations or steps to minimze the affects is environmental suicide, we will eventually pay a much higher price. The “Clean coal” campaign gives us a false sense of security, and is designed to imply that we can maintain the status quo. There are roughly 600 coal plants producing electricity in the U.S.  they are responsible for more than two-thirds of sulfur dioxide, 22% of nitrogen oxides, nearly 40% of carbon dioxide and a third of all mercury emissions is this “clean coal” the honest answer is not so much.