The Heat Is Online

Peabody Ads Call Kansas Governor a Tool of Chavez and Putin

Kansas Governor Gets No Apology from Big Coal


Andrew Revkin, The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2007


Peabody Energy, the world's largest private coal company, did not sway from its support (financial or otherwise) for the controversial ads placed in Kansans newspapers on Monday that said Iraqi, Venezuelan, and Russian leaders were smiling because of the governor's recent rejection of two applications for coal-burning power plants.


The administration of Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius said its decision was based on projected risks to health and the environment from global warming. Governor

Sebelius said the backers of the ad owed Kansans an apology.


The company's response came in Tuesday but lay buried in my in-box (my lapse!). Here it is, from Vic Svec, Peabody's senior vice president for investor relations and communications. He mentions Kansans for Affordable Energy, the name of the organization that paid for the ads (with money from Peabody and a local utility).


"We are pleased to support the message behind Kansans for Affordable Energy, which is that we can choose inexpensive U.S. energy sources such as clean coal, or we can jeopardize our future from risky foreign sources. Experts agree that increased natural gas use will come from imports. The global energy markets are interconnected. Russia, Iran and Venezuela combined control nearly half of the world's gas reserves& and do not have Kansas' best interests at heart. To assume America can repeat the import philosophy on natural gas that it has pursued for decades in oil is to ignore the new political, economic and geologic realities of the world. We need all forms of energy, including America's most abundant source."


So what do you do when you have 250 more years' worth of a convenient, cheap fuel in the ground (at current rates of use) and scientists are saying big climate impacts await from continued use here and in China and other countries with vast reserves? After all, "clean" or "dirty" doesn't matter to the climate system; the carbon dioxide output is the same.


We'll be writing more on the much wished-for notion that large volumes of carbon dioxide from coal burning can be captured, compressed and pumped into the earth or deep in the sea for long-term storage. But it doesn't look promising at the scale of billions of tons a year.


Another option is climate engineering  lofting plane-loads of particles into the air the way a volcano does to artificially counteract some greenhouse warming with a sun-blocking veil. Theres a meeting of experts at Harvard starting Thursday to hash out the many questions attending that option.


One big question: Who gets to set the planets thermostat? Russia? South Africa? The Maldive Islands?


In the meantime, big coal is going to remain big for a long time to come. One indication came Wednesday, when the International Energy Agency came out with its latest outlook, projecting that China and Indias energy use (mostly from coal) will double from 2005 to 2030.


Another simpler indicator is on the Web site of Peabody Energy. There, a digital ticker tracks the companys coal production. This morning it was whirring away at about 8 tons per second, passing 200,415,733 tons for this year.