End the ‘war on coal’

By |2017-12-08T21:06:28+00:00December 8th, 2017|Guest Insights|8 Comments

By Bryan Leyland and Tom Harris

At the recent Environmental Protection Agency public hearing in Charleston, West Virginia, on withdrawing the “Clean Power Plan,” anti-coal activists were out in force: the Climate Justice Alliance, Sierra Club, Citizens Climate Lobby, Natural Resource Defense Council, and many others.

The New York Times reported that several groups also met at the University of Charleston, to discuss the purported “environmental, health, and climate benefits of reducing coal consumption.”

They apparently do not understand that the abundant, low-cost energy provided by coal laid the foundations of the industrial revolution and modern society. It provided power for trains that transported raw materials and factories that turned them into vital products.

In the 20th Century coal-fired power stations provided the reliable, inexpensive electricity that is the lifeblood of modern economies. It still does today.

The world has vast coal reserves. The USA alone still has a 380-year supply at current usage rates. It could be burned in modern clean power plants.

Sadly, in the Western world, radical environmentalists are working to shut down existing coal-fired stations, and prevent new ones from being built. Meanwhile, hundreds of new coal-fired stations are being built annually in the rest of the world, to power expanding economies and bring improved health, welfare, and prosperity to billions of people who until recently had no access to electricity.

Developing countries must build new coal-fired stations to provide their poverty-stricken populations with reliable low-cost electricity. But environmentalists have convinced international development banks that coal is evil and persuaded the banks to squander vast sums on expensive wind and solar power that keeps a few lights burning a few hours a day.

For commercial and industrial development, hospitals, schools, and families, developing nations need abundant, continuous, low-cost electricity. In many cases, coal is by far the best option.

So why is coal vilified? It is because of the mistaken belief that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is causing dangerous global warming. Indeed, coal stations are a major source of CO2 emissions. However, this climate change connection rests entirely on the output of computer models that are programmed to predict warming if CO2 increases. The models assume what they are supposed to prove!

Speaking at the recent America First Energy Conference in Houston, Texas, University of Delaware climatology professor Dr. David Legates showed that climate models consistently predict far greater temperature rises than are actually observed: a full degree Fahrenheit difference by 2017.

Models are “tuned” to give the results desired for political purposes, he explained. “This is not science!”

Yet, the benefits of increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide – the only gas controlled by the Clean Power Plan – are clear. CO2 is essential for plant growth. Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change expert Dr. Craig Idso told the Houston audience, “The entire terrestrial biosphere is reaping incredible benefits from an approximately 40% increase in atmospheric CO2 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.”

If it were true that man-made CO2 caused dangerous global warming, the best option would be nuclear power that is proven, safe, and environmentally friendly. But environmental extremists claim that nuclear power is too dangerous, even though the only recorded deaths from nuclear power generation occurred at the obsolete and mal-operated Chernobyl station in Ukraine.

The next best option is natural gas. This has been spectacularly successful in the United States, and hydraulic fracturing is producing abundant supplies of this vital fuel. Yet, despite its excellent safety record, activists violently oppose fracking.

Instead, they push wind and solar power that exist only because they are heavily subsidized, while ignoring their adverse health and environmental impacts. The huge expansion of wind and solar power has massively increased electricity costs because of subsidies, mandated purchases, and the high cost of providing backup power whenever the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.

Reliability is also a problem, especially with wind power. For example, extensive blackouts occurred recently in South Australia when their wind power went offline in a gale and so overloaded the backup supply that it also shut down.

Few people understand that the war against coal is actually a war against people and a cleaner environment.

Modern highly efficient coal-fired power plants with stack gas cleanup – the kind that can be built all over the world – are as clean as they can be. Their emissions consist of water, CO2, and nitrogen. The stack gas cleanup removes virtually all the real pollutants, especially sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides.

The only pollution left behind is coal ash, which freezes pollutants in its glassy matrix and can be stored safely in disposal facilities.

The USA is not building modern coal-fired power plants because EPA regulations set allowable CO2 emissions per megawatt of electricity far below what can be achieved using the best technology. If it had been set slightly higher – or better still, if no limit had been imposed on CO2 emissions – the United States would be still leading the world in building modern, clean, efficient, economical coal-fired stations. That’s exactly what Europe, China, India, and dozens of other countries are doing.

It’s clearly high time to end the war on coal!


Bryan Leyland is an Auckland, New Zealand-based consulting engineer and the founding secretary and energy issues adviser for the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). Tom Harris is the ICSC’s executive director.


  1. cshorey December 8, 2017 at 9:59 PM

    Really, no discussion of how fracking natural gas puts economic pressure on coal, and is the real reason for its downturn? No note of Santer et. al. 2017 that actually shows that most models have under predicted warming? More biased bad reporting from CFACT. Who still takes Craig Idso seriously? He ignores the studies showing reduced nutrition with CO2 loading, or that weedy species can outcompete agricultural species with increased CO2, or that CO2 does cause heat retention which can lead to heat and water stress on plants. So much actual science has to be ignored to write a CFACT article it seems.

    • MichaelR December 11, 2017 at 2:26 AM

      Indeed. This para sums up the complete deliberate denial of the science.
      “So why is coal vilified? It is because of the mistaken belief that man-made carbon dioxide (CO2) is causing dangerous global warming. Indeed, coal stations are a major source of CO2 emissions. However, this climate change connection rests entirely on the output of computer models that are programmed to predict warming if CO2 increases. The models assume what they are supposed to prove!”

      This is utter bullshit. The warming action of CO2 has been understood for over a century. It has also been repeatedly demonstrated by multiple scientific fields. Of course computer models model the action of CO2 as a GHG, just like the do with water vapour and methane etc, because they ARE known GHGs. Computers did not predict that CO2 would warm the atmosphere. There were no fucking computers in the 19th century when CO2 as a GHG was first theorised!

      The authors of these articles should be ashamed of themselves for peddling such blatant lies. I guess their main carreer went of track and now they have to suck up to the fossil fuel lobby groups for their livelihood. There is evidently not a shred of scientific integrity left in them. They are no more than a PHD for hire to the highest bidder.

      • cshorey December 11, 2017 at 9:42 AM

        There is a new study out on science denial and what factors are most correlated with various conspiracy theories. Unfortunately there is really only one thing that strongly correlates with climate science denial, and that is political party. For one this this shows us that climate science denial is purely ideological and has no rational basis, but it also says that trying to deal rationally with these deniers, by showing them actual evidence and science, will do no good. If their position is not based on evidence and rational thought, then you can’t pull them out with evidence and reason.

        • MichaelR December 12, 2017 at 3:19 PM

          That certainly chimes with my experience. Argument with climate change sceptics has the same character as arguing with young Earth creationists (which is light relief compared to climate change discussions!) – terrible sourcing of data, trotting out bizarre or bebunked pseudoscience, misquoting or misrepresenting reputable scientists and their papers, and above all, going back to a well spring of bullshit, even after it has been proven unreliable over and over. It’s as though they are in some delusional trance created by the likes of Christopher Monckton, Anthony Watts, James Delingpole etc and they keep going back to the teat for a top up of contrarian claptrap… With creationists it’s just the same but there the villains are Ken Ham, Kent and Eric Hovind and Ray Comfort… At least creationists have indoctrination since childhood to excuse themselves. More than can be said for climate change sceptics.

          • pkwz December 13, 2017 at 12:11 AM

            Tell that to the Chinese and Indians. You’re just a middle class white boy from America—here’s a hint, they don’t listen to people like you.

            • MichaelR December 13, 2017 at 2:19 AM

              Wow, that will come as quite a surprise to my French/British wife, my Swiss neighbours and my 20 employees who live and work in Gujarat.
              The Indians know well is going on. They compIaim more every year about their peculiar weather patterns, the crappy monsoon and he heat waves they get. Thankfully their government has the sense and the guts to do something which is why India is building the largest solar plant in the work right now, as well as implementing wide ranging regulation on emissions. That said, Indians are impressively corrupt so no doubt it will cost much more than it ought to and will all take longer to happen than it should, but given the state of the pollution in Delhi, lawmakers are confronted daily with the consequences of their inaction. So they are doing something about it.
              And China is building solar and wind at a staggering rate. They have gone from next to nothing to 77GW capacity (2016) in about 7 years and the growth is exponential.
              It’s sad for the US as the US should have its own powerhouse manufacturers as well but government policy is so pathetic that there just isn’t the regulatory environment or political support to make it happen.

  2. pkwz December 8, 2017 at 11:52 PM

    Fortunately, the folks in China, India and the rest of the developing world have to generate electricity that is affordable to their economic realities. They don’t have the luxury of eating cake. The reason why the world has burned so much coal is that it is CHEAP! When most of your citizens earn $2 a day (more or less), you have to make electricity that is economical.

    What hysterical con artists from the rich western nations say is irrelevant.

  3. pkwz December 9, 2017 at 11:24 AM

    It’s funny how dumb people are by building coal fired power plants when they could get their electricity for free from the sun and wind! sarc

    Coal currently is the main source of electricity in Africa and the Chinese and Indians are building scores of new coal fired plants. Hmm, why is this?

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