Sunday, November 26, 2006

Change In the Weather?

Something's happening here.

In checking out articles about all aspects of the coal industry, lately there has been a feeling of change in the wind on a subject usually considered tangential to mine safety and health, but highly important to the future of the mining industry: global warming.

News article after news article in the widest variety of outlets during the past couple of weeks has described nations and states and little communities wrestling with the energy promise and the known problems of coal. The impression I have is that most of these debates are not -- at the root-- driven by politics as usual, but represent a variety of efforts to grapple with what more and more people are seeing as a real, nitty-gritty dilemma that affects them personally.

Then this weekend, a front-page piece in the Washington Post indicated that a shift seems to be coming, perhaps has come already, not only in public and but also corporate opinion:

Energy Firms Come to Terms With Climate Change
By Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin

While the political debate over global warming continues, top executives at many of the nation's largest energy companies have accepted the scientific consensus about climate change and see federal regulation to cut greenhouse gas emissions as inevitable.

The Democratic takeover of Congress makes it more likely that the federal government will attempt to regulate emissions. The companies have been hiring new lobbyists who they hope can help fashion a national approach that would avert a patchwork of state plans now in the works. They are also working to change some company practices in anticipation of the regulation.

"We have to deal with greenhouse gases," John Hofmeister, president of Shell Oil Co., said in a recent speech at the National Press Club. "From Shell's point of view, the debate is over. When 98 percent of scientists agree, who is Shell to say, 'Let's debate the science'?"...

Exxon Mobil Corp., the highest-profile corporate skeptic about global warming, said in September that it was considering ending its funding of a think tank that has sought to cast doubts on climate change. And on Nov. 2, the company announced that it will contribute more than $1.25 million to a European Union study on how to store carbon dioxide in natural gas fields in the Norwegian North Sea, Algeria and Germany...

Next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether the federal government is obligated to regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant; its decision could force the government to come up with guidelines.

The Los Angeles Times had more on the Supreme Court case:

States Will Tell Supreme Court Feds Must Act on Warming
By David G. Savage

Washington - The polar icecaps are melting, summers growing hotter and hurricanes becoming more powerful, but the Bush administration has insisted it cannot regulate the gases that many believe are responsible.

On Wednesday, a coalition of 12 states, led by California and Massachusetts, will try to persuade the Supreme Court that the nation's environmental regulators have the legal authority and responsibility to control greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming - which many scientists describe as the biggest environmental threat to the planet....

Dealing with carbon dioxide, an inevitable byproduct of burning, is tougher than dealing with coal contaminants such as sulfur, but not impossible. Already there are specific plans underway in the U.K. for one facility intended to pack away waste carbon dioxide in rock strata far underground.

Meanwhile, as energy demands continue to rise and in some areas, mushroom, communities worldwide are debating whether to build more coal-fired power plants, whether to let existing ones continue, whether to allow more coal mines, and on what terms.

All this bears on the future well-being of the coal industry -- and, according to the growing consensus, the future well-being of humanity as a whole -- including miners, their children and their children's children.


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