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Friday, August 10, 2007

Pennsylvania non-profit tells us that coal is "Clean-and-Green" energy

A group called Pennsylvania Families for Coal (FORCE), a "grassroots" corporation, has posted billboards around western PA touting coal as a "clean-and-green" energy source. Critics, and there are plenty of them, have stated that the group is just a front for the coal mining companies. WTAE channel 4 here in Pittsburgh had a feature story on this a few months back, the video coverage and story can be viewed here.

One of the individuals the news interviewed was Doug Farnham, an energy industry veteran whom I had met back in February when I went to see Ed Rendell's introduction of his energy plan here in Pittsburgh. Doug is president of PFBC Environmental Energy Technology, a company that was spun out of CONSOL energy that has since received at least $1 million in grants from the state of Pennsylvania to develop "clean" coal technology which produces power from coal waste, or slurry. The complete process is shown here on PFBC's website.

Even though he didn't return my email when I tried to contact him a few months back, I think Doug is good guy and I think it would be huge news if their waste coal energy system could be commercialized on a larger scale. But still, I find it odd that he would head up or fund an organization that is spending money on propaganda to tell us that coal is clean energy, when we all know how dirty coal plants have made our state one of the dirtiest, not to mention one of the poorest for air quality and greenhouse gas emissions. The fact that Dough's company is trying to produce clean energy from waste coal, he heads up that "grassroots" corporation, and he has relations with one of the biggest coal mining companies in these parts, makes me wonder if something shady is going on. If Doug or anyone at his firm happens to read this it would be nice to hear from you with a response to this.

These misleading attempts by coal industry to advertise coal as clean energy and refute global warming are getting ridiculous. Coal is cheap, and will not be going away anytime soon, but the current process of burning coal makes it the biggest culprit of global warming, not to mention mercury poisoning of our fish and wildlife from the emissions that make it into our lakes and streams.

Instead of becoming the next big tobacco, why doesn't the coal industry focus its attention and dollars on becoming more environmentally friendly rather than trying to hang on to its old ways? When will these energy industries wake up and realize that all the lobbying and misrepresentation of facts is no longer enough to sustain their current levels of profitability?

7 comments:

James Edward Dillard said...

there was a time, i think, when people valued the truth... it's remarkable to me the distance that people are willing to go to make money.

in the immortal words of tyler durden "sticking feathers up your but does not make you a chicken!"

Rearden said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rearden said...

Some additional facts may be interesting.

The FORCE organization was the brainchild of CONSOL's Brett Harvey and Doug Farnham and envisioned by them as a means for educating the public as to the importance of coal in the Pittsburgh area economy. At it's inception in 2002, the coal industry was in one of it's most dramatic downswings since the great depression and in dire need of some all purpose boosterism. We all drank a toast to the idea and set about the work.

FORCE, however, did little to excite the upper echelons of management in area coal mining and coal-service companies since the organization loudly proclaimed it's neutrality in all coal issues and supported no political candidates. Why bother joining? Even the Pennsylvania Coal Association politely distanced itself when asked to cooperate with Families Organized to Represent the Coal Economy and this was due, in no small part, to FORCE's refusal to take sides in legislation supporting longwall mining companies in southwestern PA which was a critical agenda issue for the PCA and Consol.

In 2003 the coal economy did manage to recover and grow and the coal interests were more inclined to support the Seinfeld organization which is mostly about nothing. Enter a few lackluster speeches by Ed Rendell at the FORCE yearly banquet- arguably the only thing this group manages to do- and a few billboards along I-70 proclaiming the good deeds of this organization one can't join, and you have FORCE in a nutshell: a noble idea that fizzled.

Doug Farnham's relationship with Consol Energy goes back many, many years as Farnham & Phile Construction was one of the few in the area which could bid Consol's complex coal projects and actually deliver the goods on time and within budget. Together they created jobs. Consol and Farnham & Pfile are respectful of each other's business prowess and that goes a long way in the business world. But, not as far as PFBC.

PFBC is not and never was a spin-off of Consol Energy. The technology was simply not good enough to pique their interests. The Department of Energy has studied this technology since the 1960's and most of the global energy project developers came, saw, yawned and left. Farnham & Pfile came across this technology a few years back and apparently saw opportunity for reclaiming coal waste piles in Westmoreland county by the combusting of that low thermal grade material in PFBC units while making electricity for the region. Which see Rearden's blog

Regarding 'green' coal, I think that one's hubris swirling around cleaning up 80 million tons of waste coal pollution got in the way of the King's English here. Yes, cleaning up acid mine drainage sites around the area will help make the environment more 'green' but burning the waste coal for this purpose will not make the coal 'green'. In the WTAE piece, notice that Farnham and Rainone, of FORCE, disagree on this issue.

The may share buildings; share visions for the future of the coal industry and work for each other, but, trust me, this is the Gang that Couldn't Shoot Straight and suggestions of purposeful subterfuge on their parts are cause for spit takes and major snickering.

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Keep this world GREEN ~ John

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