By Lori A. Burkhart
Gas-fired power is king today, but fuel diversity needs and new technologies may open the door for nuclear and coal.
The nation's demand for...
CO2 Does Not Pollute: But Kyoto's Demise Won't End Debate
A gas industry leader says Bush got it right, yet admits the worth of carbon abatement.
By now, the press has had its day with the saga of Christine Todd Whitman , the new Administrator of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) - how she sought to treat carbon dioxide (CO 2) as a pollutant and then cap CO 2 emissions, but without any regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act, its 1990 Amendments, or its legislative history.
Supposedly, EPA's action stemmed from a campaign promise by George W. Bush. But the President wisely withdrew it in view of the spreading California power crisis. As I see it, the President's new policy stands up well, not only in terms of regulatory law, but also as a matter of common sense for U.S. energy and economic policy.
All the same, however, I continue to favor a move toward minimizing CO 2 emissions, both for the U.S. and for the global energy system. Such a policy can be shown to be prudent and feasible. Yet, there is much misinformation. Much of it can be blamed on those responsible for interpreting the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Any worthwhile discussion of the Kyoto Protocol, fossil fuels, CO 2, and electric generation cannot begin without a full grasp of the costs and capabilities of gas exploration and production, and the consequences of any increased reliance on gas-fired, combined-cycle turbines. And it ought to start with the clear understanding that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.
Carbon and Climate: The Latest Data
Obviously, the difference between a pollutant and a greenhouse gas is more than semantic. Air pollutants must either be toxic outright, as is carbon monoxide or mercury, or threaten major detrimental health and environmental impacts, such as sulfur and nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and reactive (non-methane) hydrocarbons. I shall deal with the supposedly dire consequences of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions later on, but CO 2 is a special case. It is not only used as the surrogate for all of these emissions arising from the combustion of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) and land use practices, but it is also the essential source of life on our planet because photosynthesis is the beginning of the food chain. In fact, one can cite many beneficial impacts from the enrichment of the atmosphere in both the recent and distant past. (The atmospheric concentration of CO 2 grew from about 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) around 1800 and to 367 ppmv today. It also varied from roughly 180 ppmv to 300 ppmv during the preceding 160,000 years). For example, the higher CO 2 concentration has stimulated vegetation growth, such as afforestation of the Northern Hemisphere. In the most recent assessment of total annual anthropogenic emissions, some 2 billion of 8 billion metric tons (gigatonnes) of carbon (GtC) are now sequestered in a "missing sink," in addition to the 2 GtC/year permanently sequestered by the oceans 1.
Also, of the 200-gigatonne annual cycle of carbon circulation that occurs