Coal Tattoo

More on the Capitol Power Plant

One of the major backers of the big anti-coal protest Monday in Washington, D.C., is author Bill McKibben.


McKibben has a commentary in Sunday’s Washington Post about the protest. Here’s a bit of what he had to say:

Washington has seen its share of big protests over the years, and most of them center on the White House, the Mall or the Capitol. That will change tomorrow, when the first big protest of the Obama era — and the first mass civil disobedience against global warming in this country — will take place against the not-very-scenic backdrop of the Capitol Hill Power Plant, a dirty symbol of the dirtiest business on Earth, the combustion of coal.

In that one plant — owned and operated by our senators and representatives — you can see all the filth that comes with coal. There are the particulates it spews into the air and hence the lungs of those Washington residents who enjoy breathing. There are the profits it hands to the coal industry, which is literally willing to level mountains across West Virginia and Kentucky to increase its fat margins. And most of all there is the invisible carbon dioxide it spews each day into the atmosphere, drying our forests, melting our glaciers and acidifying our oceans.

There’s also a story out this morning by my friend Dina Cappiello at The Associated Press on the whole controversy. She notes:

The steam and chilled-water power plant has become more efficient. It now burns more natural gas and only 35 percent coal, compared with 49 percent in 2007.

But Congress is running out of options to make the plant fully green. Also, there are questions about whether it can afford to keep paying to use the extra natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal.

And her story predicts:

The plant’s story is one that is likely to play out across the United States as Congress looks to limit greenhouse gases and require more of the country’s energy to come from wind, solar and other renewable sources.

The issues hampering the cleanup — politics, cost and technological barriers — could trip up similar efforts elsewhere. The U.S. counts on coal-fired power plants for about half of its electricity; the plants are also the biggest source of heat-trapping gases.

So if Congress cannot act locally, as the environmental slogan goes, how can it begin to think globally?

And, the AP story quotes Bill Kovacs, vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce kind of poo-pooing the protest and any steps taken by the Capitol Power Plant:

It doesn’t make any difference what they do. It makes a statement, but it is not going to change carbon dioxide concentrations at all anywhere in the world and coal will continue to be used somewhere else.

And get ready for the “What global warming?” jokes — forecasters are calling for temperatures in the 20s and light snow tomorrow in Washington. There’s a winter storm warming in effect through tomorrow at 2 p.m.

For some context on why cold winter weather doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fear from climate change, see this post from Joseph Romm over at Climate Progress.