the film
Commentaries and editorials

If Coal is So Bad,
Then State the Alternative

by Michael Haney
Tri-City Herald, May 16, 2007

Washington's 2007 Legislature, in its zeal to save the planet, told us plainly what not to do.

But when it came to solutions, lawmakers plainly chickened out.

Thus almost always is with legislatures.

The feel-good session enacted Senate Bill 6001, which prevents Washington utilities from buying additional power supplies from conventional coal plants.

So just what are we to do about providing heat, air conditioning, computer power, light and communications to our growing population?

Cluck, cluck, says the Legislature.

As a result, Energy Northwest put the brakes on plans to build a $1.5 billion coal-fired generating plant in Kalama, just north of Vancouver.

And Energy Northwest's proposed Pacific Mountain Energy Center, which would run on gasified coal, petroleum coke and possibly other fuels, was given five years to sequester carbon dioxide emissions underground or offset with other measures, such as buying and closing a dirty power plant.

There are legitimate differences of opinion about coal plants for electricity.

Coal is available abundantly and modern technology reduces the emissions drastically. At any rate, 84 percent of harmful emissions come from trucks and automobiles, and only 16 percent from power production.

But no question, coal plants foul the atmosphere and contribute to the greenhouse gas problem. Where the Legislature fell down was in providing solutions.

Protecting the environment is laudable.

Limiting our state's energy options without also assessing future needs and providing a realistic plan for meeting them is irresponsible showboating.

The good feeling won't survive the first brownout.

One alternative -- certainly with controversies of its own -- is nuclear power.

With hydroelectric dams -- the cleanest of all power producers -- facing environmental challenges, it seems natural that nuclear would at least get some interest from the legislators.

Questions about long-term storage for nuclear waste remain, but ignoring one of the world's chief sources of electrical production is ludicrous.

As Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, wrote in the Herald in April, "Even Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick Moore now considers nuclear power a clean, safe source of energy."

Moore, Delvin noted, wrote in The Washington Post that, "In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust. Thirty years later, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: Catastrophic climate change."

Yet the Washington Legislature, in the name of preventing climate change, couldn't even give a word -- a single word -- of support to developing the nuclear alternative.

It's good greeny politics but bad public policy. Instead the Legislature laid an egg.

Cluck, cluck, cluck.

Related Pages:
Dam the Salmon, Wall Street Journal, by Shikha Dalmia, May 30, 2007

Michael Haney, Southwest Portland
If Coal is So Bad, Then State the Alternative.
Tri-City Herald, May 16, 2007

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