NOMINEE PROMISES TO WORK ON COAL EMISSIONS PLAN
Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu pledged Tuesday that, if confirmed as energy secretary, he would lead a government effort to capture the greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Chu backed off a bit from earlier comments - widely quoted on the Internet after Chu's nomination by President-elect Barack Obama - that coal was his "worst nightmare," and explained that the term applied only if carbon dioxide emissions go uncontrolled.
"I said that in the following context: If the world continues to use coal the way we're using it today ... then it is a pretty bad dream," Chu told a Senate committee during a two-hour confirmation hearing.
Previously, Chu had said publicly that he wasn't certain scientists would find a workable way to capture and bury carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. He had said pilot projects so far were too small to tell if the process would work on the scale needed around the world.
During Tuesday's hearing, Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., quizzed Chu about those comments, prefacing his questions by noting that he chairs an appropriations subcommittee that controls the Department of Energy budget.
"It is imperative that we figure out a way to burn coal as cleanly as possible," Chu told Dorgan. "I will work very hard to extensively develop these technologies so that the United States and the rest of the world can use them."
He added, "There are some people in the United States who feel, perhaps, that we should turn off coal, but even if we do, China and India will not."
But Chu also said the United States should take the lead on reducing greenhouse emissions, and not delay action until other nations agree to take the same steps.
"I feel pretty strongly that, going forward, all of the countries in the world - China and India included - have to be included in a carbon plan to reduce emissions of carbon," Chu said. "I think the United States can take the first step and, hopefully, China will immediately, very closely follow."
Sen. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., responded that such a plan isn't likely to win approval from lawmakers, who have previously declined to mandate greenhouse emissions reductions absent agreement that developing nations will do the same.
"It's my honest conviction that that approach will not be enacted by the United States Congress," Bayh said. "That probably won't be good enough to get the job done."
During the campaign, Obama pledged to reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by at least 80 percent by 2050. In the near term, his campaign plan called for reducing emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 - a cut that the coal industry and the United Mine Workers union strongly oppose.
In his prepared confirmation testimony, Chu described climate change as "a growing and pressing problem.
"It is now clear that if we continue on our current path, we run the risk of dramatic, disruptive changes to our climate system in the lifetimes of our children and grandchildren," Chu told senators.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org