What ‘Clean Coal’ is — and isn’t

The Kemper County coal plant in Mississippi, which had to abandon its carbon capture efforts this year because of cost overruns. Credit Josh Haner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON, DC — “The term ‘clean coal’ was popularized in 2008 by coal industry groups, at a time when Congress was contemplating climate change legislation. While the term is deliberately vague, it is often understood to mean coal plants that capture the carbon dioxide emitted from smokestacks and bury it underground as a way of limiting global warming.

This technology, known as carbon capture and storage, is still in its infancy. Only one coal plant in the United States, the Petra Nova project in Texas, actually captures CO2 in this fashion, having come online in January with the help of $190 million from the Obama administration. The carbon dioxide is pumped underground into nearby oil fields to help extract hard-to-reach crude.

The technology is costly and complex. The Southern Company had to abandon a more ambitious coal carbon capture project in Kemper, Miss., in June after it ran $4 billion over budget. No other coal plants of this sort are currently being constructed in the United States.”

— Brad Plumer, New York Times

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