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Deron Lovaas’s Blog

The Air Force Gets It

Deron Lovaas

Posted October 23, 2009 in Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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For a long time, the United States Air Force was keenly interested in liquid coal.  But as time went on, the disadvantages became increasingly obvious. This week, we were pleased to discover that the Air Force was no longer pursuing this short sighted technology. We applaud its decision as one that is good for taxpayers, the environment, and national security.

The decision was a long time in the making as the technology's deep inherent flaws came under increasing scrutiny. Environmentally, these fuels are disastrous, emitting nearly double the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions as conventional fuels. Thus, commercializing liquid coal would stymie our efforts to mitigate global warming. The ecological implications are equally severe. A commercialized liquid coal industry would require coal mining to increase by up to 50%. Mining is already responsible for numerous environmental problems such as mountaintop removal, habitat loss, groundwater contamination and loss of scenic beauty.  For these reason, NRDC and other organizations have strenuously opposed liquid coal development in Congress and on the ground.

Liquid coal has also drawn criticism for its extravagant cost, running as high as $125,000 per barrel of daily production capacity. Understandably, private markets have roundly rejected these proposals and it is unlikely that any will move forward without substantial government intervention.

But perhaps most significantly, global warming has drawn the attention of military planners, veterans and security experts because of its profound impacts on national security. Climate change, they agree, will intensify resource competition, humanitarian crises, and tension in the world's most volatile regions. The National Intelligence Council notes that the "demands for potential humanitarian responses may significantly tax U.S. military transportation and support force structures, resulting in a strained readiness posture and decreased strategic depth for combat operations." Given the bleak outlook, it is easy to see why the Air Force would abandon a self defeating fuel technology that makes global warming worse. And it is highly reassuring to know that our leaders in the armed services are making the right decisions on energy policy.  By dropping liquid coal, the Air Force can fully focus on sustainable energy resources that mitigate the security risks of climate change.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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