Steven Chu explains: "Coal is my worst nightmare"

If the world continues on its current path, he tells the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, "it will be a bad dream"

Published January 13, 2009 6:39PM (EST)

The Steven Chu hearing continues. In response to a friendly question from Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., Chu explained his widely distributed comment, "coal is my worst nightmare."

I said that in the following context. If the world continues to use coal in the way that we are using it today and by the world, I mean in particular, not just the United States, but China, India, and Russia, it's a pretty bad dream. In China for example, they have not yet begun to trap the sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides, there's mercury, there's particulate matter as well as carbon dioxide. But I also have said many times in my talks, that coal is an abundant resource in the world. Two-thirds of the known coal reserves in the world lie in only four countries, the United States, first and foremost, followed by India, China and Russia. India, China, Russia and the United States, I believe, will not turn their back on coal, so it is imperative that we figure out a way to use coal as cleanly as possible. And so for that reason, I think again, my optimism as a scientist, we will develop those technologies to capture a large fraction of the carbon dioxide that is emitted from coal plants and safely sequester them. If confirmed as Secretary of Energy I will work very hard to develop these technologies so the United States and the rest of the world can use them.

(UPDATE: As noted in the previous post, CSPAN's streaming audio feed for this hearing is highly erratic. From what I can gather, there's been a great deal of discussion of nuclear energy, and Chu has apparently endorsed a fairly aggressive program of moving forward on nuclear energy. But any substantive analysis will have to wait until I see a transcript.)

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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