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News-Sentinel.com Your Town. Your Voice.
Opening Arguments

It's a coal, coal world

Indiana is said to be killing some of its residents with soot:

An environmental group's national report said pollution from Indiana's coal-fired power plants will cause an estimated 550 premature deaths in the state this year.

The report from the Clean Air Task Force ranked Indiana fifth in the U.S. in per capita mortality risk from pollutants that create lung-choking soot. The elderly and people with respiratory disease are most susceptible to such pollution.

[. . .]

Jodi Perras of Improving Kids' Environment said there's no excuse that plant emissions still shorten so many lives when available technology could virtually eliminate that pollution.

Forgive me if I'm putting words in somebody's mouth, but that last statement sounds a little absolutist: No deaths from coal-fired plants! I think it's worth asking what the cost would be to use that "available technology" to reduce the deaths to zero and whether that would be good public policy.

 Indiana had 693 highway deaths last year, almost 150 more than the coal-caused deaths, and that was way down from a 15-year average of 917. That's a terrible price to pay for the freedom and convenience we enjoy because of automobiles, but would you want to ban them and require a return to the horse and buggy? How about mandating a 20-mph maximum speed limit and forbidding left turns -- that would get the rate to almost zero. According to the CDC, more than 1,000  Hoosiers died of flu in 2007. We could fix that by requiring everyone to stay indoors or come out only in every-other-days shifts while wearing masks and never touching. The possibility of death from accidents or communicable disease is one of the prices we accept for driving and sharing public spaces. Is the electricity provided by coal burning less a public good than the ability do drive or interact with each other?

Now, don't go accusing me of being a shill for Big Energy or something, or a ghoul who doesn't care about the suffering of his fellow Hoosiers. But cost is a legitimate part of the public policy discussion. Just as we had a debate a few years ago about the benefits (including lives saved) and costs (chiefly invonvenience) of a 55-speed limit, we can discuss the costs and benefits of various coal-plant requirements. What would it cost to reduce deaths by 10 percent, and would that be good policy? How about half or 75 percent? How much for that zero-death option?


Bob G.
Mon, 09/13/2010 - 2:13pm

I don't believe that ZERO deaths would be a good thing for the government OR for big business...

Our governemnt can't properly sustain the (growing) population we have now (by design)...just like it seems that you HAVE to have a certain percentage wallowing in that nasty "poverty" level, so states can get "free money" for wasted programs that help a mere handful...now THAT number somehow keeps going UP, unlike a LOT of our paychecks these days.

Besides, coal-fired energy is a LOT cleaner than decades ago...and still relatively in greater abundance.
But we COULD always go with Thorium reactors or even (dare I say it?)...FUSION power.

Cripes, I wonder HOW many deaths still occure from choking on chicken bones...don't see anyone trying to breed a BONELESS chicken...do you?
It can become quite nonsensical...if we allow it to.

I'm just sayin'...


William Larsen
Mon, 09/13/2010 - 4:29pm

Mention clean energy and people say wind, solar and nuclear.

I always thought Nuclear was the best way to go. I was a bit ignorant then about the cost, health and environment then. I was in the Navy's Nuclear Power program. I designed nuclear components for the Navy's reactor program. I worked on space power that I was awarded a patent on and some day may actually be used. I also worked on highly radioactive waste storage and more. What I can say after all these years is that nuclear power plants in the US are doomed from several stand points. First the cost is high nearly 12 cents per Kw. Coal comes in at about 6.2 cents per Kw. Natural gas is about 6.0 cents per Kw, Hydro is cheapest at about 3.2 cents per Kw. Solar comes in at 20 cents per KW, but is dropping fairly quickly. Wind comes in at 3.8 cents per Kw.

The move is to electric cars. Burning coal to make electricity is dirty. Burning Natural gas to make electricity takes a fairly compact energy source, converts it to a not so compact energy source to use in a 98% energy efficient motor.

Ethanol uses far more energy to create than it contains. This is a no brainer forget it.

I would not support coal fired plants for the simple fact they cost a lot, highly compact energy source (not distributed you lose one, you lose a lot of power). Wind power could easily supply 300% of the U.S. Current electrical consumption. This means it has room to supply electric cars. It could even be used to break the H2O bond into H2 and O2 for use in a fuel cell to make electricity and drive a car on one "charge" further than a current tank of gas does now.

I am for using the cheapest form right now. Current power generation plants like coal take years to construct. This means there is no incremental return as you complete the project. You have to wait years before it produces a single Kw. Nuclear costs four times the Kw as Wind just to create the capacity. Wind power can be added to the grid as soon as the wind mill is erected. It also diversifies the energy grid across a wider area so that knocking out a major station does not shut everyone off.

To me it is not about the environment, life, accidents, but practicality, cost and commons sense. As coal fired plants are taken off line, they should not be replaced by new coal plants, but new technology that is cleaner, safer and cheaper.

Mon, 09/13/2010 - 6:20pm

The principal point is this: You don't have the slightest idea how many deaths are attributable to coal. Period. End of discussion.
This renders your entire post pointless.
How many people who died of pulmonary disease last year were killed by coal dust and/or coal-caused air pollution? You don't know and neither does anyone else.
I don't think you're stupid, so that only leaves fraud.

john b. kalb
Mon, 09/13/2010 - 6:39pm

Hey "Little Place to Take a Pee" - just to whom are you addressing your response? If it's to Leo, he didn't come up with the "550 premature deaths" figure - it came from "an environmental group" - and they didn't write the subject post!
Also, just who are you charging with fraud?
And why are you so upset with the name your parents gave you?