Maybe it's because I'm still reeling over the news that Obama-appointed Lisa Jackson, new head of the EPA (that 'P' was supposed to stand for "protection" last time I checked) approved 42 permits to permanently obliterate several dozen mountain tops in Appalachia, burying miles of rivers and streams in the process.

But I am just not all that impressed by the news by of Wisconsin's recent "success" in capturing carbon at the coal-fired power plant in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin.

In fact, I fear that by now legitimizing the most destructive fuel on earth, we may be stepping full on into a nightmare of "clean coal" -- a twisted world order in which hundreds of thousands of unnecessary human deaths and unprecedented environmental catastophe are all justified in the pursuit of "cheap" coal.

We Greenies need to learn from our past mistakes. 

Remember how stoked everyone was a few years ago about the biofuel revolution? Everyone from President Clinton to Willie Nelson was praising Brazil's transition away from oil and into "clean" biofuels. 

If you want to see what the biofuel revolution has done to Brazil's once verdant rainforests read my recent post on termite power and Vice Magazine's sobering portrayal of life in an ethanol "work camp."

We need to start looking at least ONE step ahead. It seems we've been all too content looking straight down as we march forward on the path to "sustainability" (while patting ourselves on the back no less). Meanwhile we don't see the proverbial brick wall that is merely a few feet away.

So let me proclaim it: Carbon capture is perhaps the worst possible economic investment we could make right now (maybe only second to liquifying coal to replace gasoline, the folly of which cannot even be put into words). 

Why would we invest billions of dollars making a limited, dirty fuel barely tolerable when, within a decade, we could entirely replace coal power with wind and solar -- an investment that would pay us dividends forever since there is no mining or drilling required? Renewable fuels are free!

I don't want to berate WE Energies. In addition to funding the Pleasant Prairie carbon capture project, they have also heavily invested in wind energy. So they have their eye on the ball and their project is truly the closest anyone has come to successfully capturing carbon dioxide at the source. You can read the report here (PDF). 

But let's get some things straight about carbon capture technology:

1. It is hella expensive!

Based on the recent project done in partnership with Alstom, a European carbon capture company, the cost of sequestering a ton of CO2 is somewhere in the ballpark of $70 per tonne! A tree can do the same job for less than $10/tonnne.

2. At best it can only sequester 90% of the carbon emitted.

3. It takes a lot of energy to actually remove the carbon.

In other words you have to burn about 25% more coal just to remove the CO2 from the coal that you were going to burn in the first place. Can anyone say "more mountains?"

4. Once it's removed you have to do something with the tons of chilled ammonia containing the CO2.

Right now there are not very many uses for CO2, unless you count soda carbonation. Burying it deep underground is an option but this option seems to make the storage of nuclear waste rather simple by comparison.

5. At best, the technology won't be ready for pime time until 2015, and that is very optimistic. 

So basically we would be sinking billions of dollars in capital, capital that could otherwise used to ramp up smart grid or renewable energy projects. And at best, it won't be ready for another 6 years and would be operated at a HUGE expense to both taxpayers and the environment.

The logic only works if you're walking up a hill backwards... on a blown up mountain.

Related Stories:

Wisconsin carbon capture: success or false hope?
One blogger's perspective on the recent 'success' of Wisconsin's carbon capture pilot program.