CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For some time, Sen. Jay Rockefeller has appeared to be in step with people who deny that climate change is a threat to anyone. But on Wednesday, Rockefeller took the stage alongside U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the University of Charleston and warned that West Virginia must take climate change seriously for the sake of its coal industry.
"People think they are protecting coal by denying climate change exists or that CCS is not needed," Rockefeller said at a forum on carbon capture and sequestration sponsored by U.C. and the Gazette.
But even if West Virginians continue to bury their heads in the sand, the rest of the world will not, he said. More people, both in the United States and abroad, want to avoid the worst possible effects of global climate change. That means reducing carbon emissions that contribute to global warming.
One way power plants could cut emissions quickly is by switching to natural gas, Rockefeller said. That would be devastating to the coal industry. But if people dally, delay and deny that any action is needed, that is exactly what will happen. The rest of the world will move on to other alternatives, without investing the billions necessary to develop technology that captures carbon dioxide and keep it out of the atmosphere.
Chu, a Nobel-prize winning physicist, said it will take years to make the process work and to make it commercially available. But it is an economic opportunity, and the United States is in a good position to develop the technology and sell it around the world.
While capturing and storing carbon would cause electricity prices to rise, some of the increase would be offset by savings elsewhere, Chu said. The cost of doing nothing would be greater.
There are also possibilities in using liquid coal to power transportation, Chu said. If the carbon byproduct is captured and stored underground, the lifetime costs of such a fuel could be less than the lifetime costs of oil.
"We are the Saudi Arabia of coal," Chu said. "No one is going to turn their back on coal. The issue is how to use coal in a clean way."