Thursday, June 21, 2007

Jeff Goodell: Big Coal's Dirty Secrets

This story on NPR's "Fresh Air" this evening shed some light on my May 17th observation (see below.) Terry Gross interviewed Jeff Goodell, the author of Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future.

According to Goodell, half of the electricity generated in the U.S. comes from coal. We burn about 1 billion tons annually (roughly 20 pounds per person, per day, for every man, woman and child in America.)

For railways such as Burlington Northern, hauling coal represents their largest revenue stream. He states that Wyoming has become the Mother Lode of coal, as the deposits are relatively near the surface and easier to extract than eastern coal.

Unfortunately, the energy content of Wyoming coal is lower, and so it is necessary to mine, transport and burn more Wyoming coal to achieve the same output produced by Appalachian coal. According to Goodell, this means increased CO2 emissions. (Link to story here.)

Across Nebraska (and, later, into Wyoming) these tracks were busier than any I've ever seen. Probably around 90% of the eastbound traffic was coal from Wyoming's enormous coal mines near Gilette. Each train was about 120 rail cars in length, and I passed dozens today.

I couldn't help but wonder at Dick Cheney's Wyoming connection and the Administration's recent promotion of "Clean Coal" as a key component of "America's Energy Independence"

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