She pointed to a presentation Chu gave to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in October 2007 in which he said, "Technologies for capturing and sequestering carbon from fossil fuels can play a central role in the cost-effective management of global carbon dioxide emissions."
Environmental groups and other advocates of swift and serious action to deal with the climate change crisis said Chu's comments on coal reflect a clear understanding of the scientific basis for concern and a practical view of the challenges for reducing the energy industry's greenhouse impacts.
"He isn't fooled by clean-coal claptrap," wrote Joseph Romm, an energy expert who edits the blog Climate Progress.
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.
United Mine Workers officials and some within the coal industry aren't as concerned about the 2050 target. But the near-term reductions scare coal industry backers. They say cutting back to 1990 emissions by 2020 doesn't provide adequate time to work out the long list of hurdles to implementing carbon capture and sequestration technology on coal-fired power plants.
Obama and Vice President-elect Joe Biden have also proposed to invest $150 million over 10 years on a variety of energy programs - everything from plug-in hybrid vehicles to biofuels and "low-emissions coal plants."
They also said they would instruct the DOE to start a new public-private partnership to build five commercial-scale coal-fired plants that capture carbon dioxide emissions and pump them underground. But it remains unclear exactly how much government money Obama and Biden would chip in for those plants, or how much of the $150 billion "clean energy" program would go toward coal.
Chu said carbon dioxide controls on power plants could increase electricity bills by about 25 percent. But he said the higher costs are not the biggest challenge.
Carbon dioxide that is pumped underground could form a big bubble that finds its way out, or could turn acidic and create cracks in geologic formations that prompt leakage, Chu said. These potential problems, he said, are likely to bring lawsuits from residents where such projects are proposed.
"Why would there be a legal challenge?" Chu said. "Because there would be people saying I don't want this done in my back yard because if the carbon dioxide ever does bubble to the surface, it could actually kill people."
He also said that fly-ash emissions from coal-fired power plants amount to 100 times more radiation than is released by nuclear power plants.
"If you're concerned about radiation, coal might be worse than a nuclear reactor," Chu said. "It's worse in every other respect."
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com