C2L: Worse Than Gasoline

Liquid coal would produce roughly twice the global warming emissions of gasoline.

Published: 16-Jul-2007

Lawmakers of both parties are proposing amendments to the so-called energy independence bill that would massively subsidize the coal industry to produce liquid coal as a replacement for foreign oil. (The admirable original bill is designed to increase fuel efficiency in cars and light trucks, encourage production of biofuels, and provide funds to develop technology that will capture carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.)

Senator Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, opposed big subsidies for coal-based fuels until mid-June, when he moved to offer up to $10 billion in loans for coal-to-liquid plants. At the same time, Senator Barack Obama, from coal-rich Illinois, abruptly shifted his support for subsidizing coal-derived fuel production to concentrate on another bill he had been sponsoring that would cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce carbon content in transport fuel.

The shifting positions of Bingaman and Obama underscore the tension between efforts to reduce dependence on foreign oil and to slow global warming. Liquid coal—produced when coal is converted into transportation fuel—would at best do little to rein in climate change and would at worst be twice as bad as gasoline in producing the greenhouse gases that blanket the earth and lead to warming.

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