Coal occupies a precarious place in the energy landscape, forever inviting criticism from every interested party. Environmental advocates point to pollution, natural devastation, and global warming. Businesses point to relatively poor return on investment and energy efficiency compared to oil and natural gas.
"Given that coal accounts for a whopping 50 percent of U.S. electricity production, it can't realistically be phased out overnight -- or even in the next half-century -- which means that transition technologies are critical."
And with the burning coal emitting "more than a third of U.S. CO2 emissions and nearly 40 percent of global CO2 emissions", one can see a decisive fork in the road looming ahead. The Grist article discusses IGCC (Integrated Gasification Combined-Cycle) coal power generating units as a potential, though not perfect, path forward. Compared to the FutureGen program touted by the Bush administration, which advocates a search for a ZERO emission coal burning solution, the IGCC seems much more pragmatic.
The old codger Senator Robert Byrd may have once again planted himself on the correct side of the fence on this issue. Like on the Iraq conflict, where Byrd planted himself with the anti-war faction, his support for IGCC will provide visibility to the issue. And independent on whether Byrd's state of West Virginia serves to gain pork-barrel coal projects through his support, this is one issue that we have little choice but to join in.