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There was an amazing coincidence today. At the same time that a second coal spill polluted the rivers of West Virginia, an Obama administration official, at a House hearing held on "Clean Coal" oversight, acted as though nothing had ever happened. Don't take my word for it. Read this PDF link to see his testimony for yourself.

The official, Julio Friedmann, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Clean Coal, gave a 12-page written testimony on the effects of carbon capture technology for the coal industry. But he said nothing about how the DOE was protecting our waterways from spills even though West Virginia has been in the news for the last two weeks. In fact, NPR reported on Senator Jay Rockefeller's disgust with the quality of water on this morning's "Morning Edition" program, and they played various clips of officials hedging on whether the water was safe to drink or not.

One of the Department of Energy's responsibilities is physical science research; e.g., how to stop coal from leaking out into our streams and waterways. But it is obvious that while much has been done on carbon sequestration according to Friedmann's testimony today, it is also obvious that not enough has been done to prevent leaks like the two in West Virginia.

At the end of his written testimony, Friedmann stated:

Today, nearly three out of every four coal-burning power plants in this country are equipped with technologies that can trace their roots back to DOE’s advanced coal technology program. These efforts helped accelerate production of cost-effective compliance options to address legacy environmental issues associated with coal use.
Therefore, if three out of four coal burning plants in the country are equipped with "clean coal" technology and we are still reading about regular spills into the waterways, then that means that "clean coal" is a myth -- a myth that was bought into hook, line, and sinker by the Obama administration. While all the "experts" are proclaiming that the water is safe to drink, the people of West Virginia know better -- they have to live with it and taste it on a regular basis.

We hear much about how "private enterprise" is so much more efficient than government. But the first thing we notice when going to Patriot Coal's (the company behind the 2nd spill) website is how they have cut operational costs:

Improved Cost Profile

Patriot has significantly reduced its operating costs, achieving more than $200 million in estimated annual savings.

And there is this interesting statement as well:
Patriot Coal commits every shift of every workday to providing a safe and healthy work environment, with the belief that all workplace safety incidents are preventable.
Incidents like this show that even if Patriot Coal or some other company is totally committed to doing the right thing, incidents like this happen with disturbing frequency. That is why tough safety regulations for operations like Patriot Coal are so important. Normally, I don't like rules and regulations. But when someone like Patriot Coal has the resources to follow them, then the use of regulation is totally appropriate. Even if it turns out Patriot Coal has been trying to do the right thing all along, the DOE, EPA, and other governmental agencies have the sort of know-how that private companies don't always have. When regulations are used appropriately, one of two things will happen -- Patriot Coal will adapt and innovate, leading to greater safety and less likelihood of spills. Or, they will shut down. Their choice.
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