Posts tagged ‘Clean Energy’

06/14/2012

Coal: Why Don’t Republicans Discuss It?

During the Republican debates, aside from Gov. Romney’s comment that he would promote coal, and Sen. Santorum’s disclosure that he served on a coal company board, the other conservatives simply encouraged oil and gas drilling, criticized clean energy like solar and wind, but said nothing about coal.

Although Republicans argued in favor of repealing regulations that interfere with energy, expressed a desire to eliminate the Energy Dept., and repeatedly demanded that the Environmental Protection Agency get out of the way, they were not specific.

So what would their coal policy be? The question is important because coal remains a major energy source. Large quantities of it are sold to electric power plants, as over half of all electric power in the U.S. is generated by coal. As coal is burned, it heats water in boilers, creates steam, spins turbines, and generates electricity.

The U.S. has one-third of the world’s coal supply, enough to mine for another 350 years. The U.S. started burning coal around 1850 and its use eventually turned America into a strong industrial nation. Most U.S. mining has been located in West Virginia and Kentucky, as well as other parts of the Appalachians, from Pennsylvania to Alabama.

Only Russia has greater coal reserves. Germany’s deposits are in the Ruhr River Valley, Britain’s are in Wales, and China’s are in Manchuria. Historically, coal fields were so important, nations fought wars over them. Germany and France, for example, battled over Alsace Lorraine, Saarland, and the Ruhr many times.

But what are the political issues in the U.S.? One issue concerns mine safety and the rights of coal miners, as coal mining is potentially dangerous. Most coal miners in the U.S. descend about 260 feet underground. Mines must be constructed properly and ventilated constantly. If the pillars in mines supporting their roofs collapse, cave-ins can be fatal. If the air flowing into the mines is interrupted, gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane can build up, catch fire, and explode causing death.

Another issue is the air pollution generated from burning coal. While some equipment eliminates some smoke and soot, there remain many environmental costs from using coal.

The two progressive forces that have protected workers regarding safety, and the public as to pollution, namely the unions and the Environmental Protection Agency, are being attacked by the Republicans.

Although the United Mine Workers Union contributed greatly to mine safety laws, such as the Coal Mine Inspection Act, the Republicans have declared war against all organized labor, and cannot be trusted do anything about mining safety complaints.

Although the Environmental Protection Agency has been the watchdog for the public as to air pollution generated by power plants, Republicans have pledged to abolish it, and our air will not be as safe, if the right-wing gains total control.

Although the Republicans have not clearly stated a coal policy, what they have said about destroying unions and dismantling the Environmental Protection Agency is all we need to know to figure out the rest. We should be concerned that if the right-wing takes total control, the coal industry will become more dangerous to workers, and the purity of the air will decline.

06/12/2012

Autos: Replace Gas Engines with Electric

There is no doubt autos with gasoline-combustion engines are by far the dominant mode of transportation in the U.S., but how long will that continue? For those who think gas-propelled cars will remain indefinitely, they should be reminded of the horse-and-buggy, which was once considered a permanent institution.

The question is not whether the gas-combustion engine will become a thing of the past, the only issue is: When will it be replaced, and by what alternative source of energy?

It may be surprising to many, but electric cars were manufactured by 54 different American firms between 1893 and 1928, and were once widely used. 300 electric taxis were operating in New York City in 1900. The next year, an electric ambulance took President McKinley to the hospital, following his assassination in 1901.

Although electric cars had the advantage of being quiet and clean, as they emitted no poisonous gases, their top speed was only about 20 MPH, and they could only go about 50 miles before their lead-acid batteries needed replacement. To complicate the problem, new batteries were expensive. As gas-propelled vehicles became easier to operate in 1910, the electric car faded from the scene, and they were eliminated completely in 1928.

Another predecessor to gas was the steam engine, known as the Stanley Steamer, which was first marketed in 1896. They remained through 1925, when again gas-combustion took over.

The gas-combustion engine got their boost in Germany in 1885, when Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz built vehicles. In the U.S., Henry Ford and Ransom Olds started in 1896. Olds took the first step towards an assembly line, as he increased production from 425 cars in 1901 to 2,500 in 1902. Using Ford’s conveyor belt in 1913, they were able to make one Model T every 93 minutes.

Following WWI, the gas-propelled auto became the major means of transportation in the U.S. Its use increased many times over in the subsequent decades of the 20th Century.

To make the auto dominant, the government invested billions in federal, state, and local highway systems, beginning in 1921. As tax dollars were spent, millions of miles of roads were added during the 20 years through 1941. Suburban communities exploded, particularly after WWII, as many were invented in places not previously serviced by rail or water.

Now, the era of the gas-engine has had a long 90-year run, during which many improvements were made to the car, but many problems also surfaced. Gas engines have given us air pollution, congested highways, urban sprawl, a foreign oil addiction, automobile accidents, as well as a host of other problems.

When considering their cost, we must keep in mind not only the price of the car, but the taxes spent by the government to build and maintain roads, military spending to keep the sea lanes open for oil shipments, and environmental harm to the air we breath.

Political leaders should be pushing scientists and engineers to bring back the electric car, since they are quieter, cleaner, and need not rely on foreign oil. The government invested heavily in roads to help gas-powered car get off the ground. Now, we need the same to help electric cars become our primary form of transit.