Bad news for coal, and everyone

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In writing my story on Boston-centric websites, I've been enjoying the style of Adam Gaffin — some of his posts are only one sentence, with a link embedded therein, of course. With this intro, I've already missed that mark of course, but I can dream...

The Times' Matthew Wald reports this morning on how a number of coal-research plants that were proposed have failed to escape the planning stage, mostly on cost bases. Ordinarily, I'd take delight in that, because bad things should happen to filthy coal barons. But the apparent fact that coal cannot be burned both benignly and economically is bad news for everyone.

I've been a skeptic of the notion that you could "bury the waste in a great big hole," as Sting once lyricized. It's ironic that, in a song about coal, he was referring to nuclear, but just as nuke-plant operators need to put their radioactive afterthoughts into the ground, the idea for these plants had been to pump the carbon dioxide into the ground to keep it from reaching the atmosphere.

So even if I wasn't surprised that economics appears not to endorse this path — although, what really do I know about the technology for goal gasification, or carbon sequestration? — I still see that it would have been better for everyone if it had.

Meanwhile, a small sidelight:  Wald says the Bush administration pulled out of the most ballyhooed of these plants — the so-called FutureGen was to have been built in Mattoon, Ill. — because costs had risen steeply, and were feared to rise further. He's the reporter, of course, but it just seems ... unusual, to say the least, that this administration backed away from an old-energy booster project just on the basis of cost.

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