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TIAHRT: Missing ‘green coal’ opportunities

American technology can power the world with affordable and clean energy

The sky has no walls. Pollution rides the wind around the entire Earth. Developing countries are trying to mimic America's affordable and reliable coal power, but without "green coal" technologies, or pollution controls. The best way to target this worldwide contamination is to find solutions here at home. However, President Obama's plan to circumvent Congress to implement measures dealing with climate change misses the mark on pollution and carbon emissions.

The question isn't whether coal-fired electricity-generating plants can capture the carbon dioxide and eliminate pollution. Efficiencies in capture technologies are dramatically increasing. The real question is whether we will target pollution challenges not only here, but across the globe.

It takes only five days for pollution in China to reach the United States, according to Kim Prather of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Why? Because the global atmosphere is a single element. The Chinese economy needs affordable and reliable power, and coal is still one of the least expensive and most dependable ways to produce it. Their apparent refusal to stop the construction of coal-fired, electricity-generating facilities means their pollution has become our problem.

Furthermore, Japan and Germany are in the process of returning to coal as a means to produce electricity. Many other nations such as India, Poland and South Africa rely heavily on coal-powered electrical production.

Mr. Obama has issued many executive orders to supposedly help the environment, but none has any effect on pollution and carbon emissions outside the United States.

In fact, the president's agenda diminishes the chance for a global solution. Most of the world's innovations come from the United States — no bragging, just the facts. Chances are that any innovation or high-tech solution to deal with the pollution in developing countries will need to come from the United States. Mr. Obama's real or perceived "war on coal" is a disincentive for that to happen.

Forcing coal facilities to shut down — or de facto closings driven by regulations, combined with the Sierra Club's shortsighted lawsuits — removes incentive for global solutions. Power companies won't try to swim upstream against regulations, lawsuits and a complicit court system to develop the high-tech processes to deal with rampant global pollution. Instead, these corporations will likely choose sources of energy production that are significantly more expensive and pass those costs on to consumers. This will have a negative impact on American jobs and our economy, but provide no resolution to drifting contamination from other countries.

The Environmental Protection Agency addresses pollution through emission standards for sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide, acid-rain gases, particulate matter and soot, mercury and leachable toxins. Each of these pollutants can effectively be remediated today with new, lower-cost advances. Already, new technologies from one high-tech "green coal" company, when fully implemented, will result in coal emissions that are cleaner than natural-gas emissions when measured against EPA regulations, including carbon dioxide. Cleaner, less-expensive solutions are on the horizon.

Take a look at carbon-capture technology. The Department of Energy's National Energy Technology Laboratory reports that today's cost for carbon-dioxide-capture per ton is about $61. However, advancing technological improvements are available now to reduce the cost to below $30 and by an additional third in the future.

Likewise, more efficient combustion expertise is reducing nitric-oxide emissions, and the cost of flue-gas desulfurization technologies are being cut in half, making solutions more affordable for developing nations to address pollution. The more efficient flue-gas desulfurization systems also reduce particulate matter and mercury levels below EPA limits.

These high-tech, job-creating solutions will diminish as the president's executive orders are implemented and take coal power offline. Mr. Obama's actions had neither congressional hearings nor a vetting process to investigate concerns or discuss our role in dealing with pollution on a worldwide scale. What little discussion occurred was limited to comments on proposed EPA regulations, which did not include the benefits of continuing to develop solutions. No matter what the Obama administration bureaucracy does, it won't have a positive impact on developing solutions for the rest of the world.

However, there is a better idea. Renewable-energy tax credits for clean-coal technologies would incentivize American companies with coal-powered generators to employ high-tech firms to develop solutions for our environmental challenges. Subsequently, new technology will be developed that will have a global impact on reducing pollution.

Congress should withhold funding of Mr. Obama's environmental executive orders until there is a proper understanding of the role American innovation plays in creating a better environment through public- and private-sector partnerships. Only then will worldwide solutions to environmental challenges have a chance. If Congress fails to act, then the United States has only itself to blame as worldwide pollution penetrates our airspace and envelops our land.

Todd Tiahrt, a former Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Kansas, is CEO of Neumann Systems Group, which designs and builds emissions-control systems for power plants and other industrial applications.

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