2008-10-31 / Business

NASA climatologist repeats warnings

By John Temple Ligon Temple@TheColumbiaStar.com

Last Thursday afternoon, Oct. 23, NASA scientist Dr. James Hansen held a telephone press conference

among S.C. newspapers, The

Columbia S tar included. Hansen was visiting the state to argue against plans by state- owned Santee Cooper to build a 1,320 megawatt pulverized coal plant on the banks of the Pee Dee River.

One of the world's leading climatologists, Hansen is director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. He is also adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1996. His testimony before Congress in the 1980s was instrumental in raising awareness about climate change. He has received numerous awards for his achievements in science, including in April 2008 the PNC Bank Common Wealth Award of Distinguished Service.

In late 2005, Hansen gave a lecture calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming. Hansen went public in early 2006 with his complaint the Bush Administration was asking him to stop speaking out on the issue of global warming.

Hansen was told by his NASA superiors that policy statements should be left to the policy makers.

Having joined NASA in 1967, Hansen's job has been to simulate the global climate on computers at the Goddard Institute in Morningside Heights in Manhattan, which is near Columbia University. For more than 20 years he has been issuing warnings about the deleteri- ous atmospheric effects from burning coal, oil, and other fossil fuels.

Over the telephone last Thursday, Hansen said a coal- burning power plant is one of the atmosphere's biggest threats, even with current measures to curb the emissions. Burning gas and oil emits less CO2 than burning coal.

According to the local chapter of the Sierra Club, with current technology, the Florence County plant is expected to emit 87 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere annually. The plant would also emit each year tens of thousands of tons of toxic pollutants like nitrous oxide and sulfur dioxide, and over 90 pounds of toxic mercury.

Clean coal, on the other hand, if that level of emissions management can be reached soon enough, is almost all right. To sequester the CO2, to actually bury the stuff, is the responsible route.

But Santee Cooper's proposed coal- burning power plant in Florence County, Hansen said, is still the time- worn technology of too much CO2 and too much mercury.

Florence County already has about the maximum of particulate matter in its air, and its air can't take on the extra burden of the new coal- burning power plant, warnTehde H Cahnasernle.s ton Post &

Courier, at its own expense, medically checked local Pee Dee and Lowcountry residents for mercury. The people who fished eastern S.C. rivers for food — not the sport fishers but the people who really needed to fish to eat — were found to carry mercury levels at about the highest count in the country.

Hansen said about 70% of the mercury in S.C.'s environment comes from coalburning power plants.

One suggestion Hansen appeared to be passing on to the S.C. newspapers was to allow for a delay in the construction of the Florence County coal- burning power plant until technology catches up with a doable clean coal approach including sequestration of the CO2.

As expected, Hansen pushed hard for alternative sources of energy, such as wind power. Being sponsored by the Sierra Club, Hansen notably never discussed nuclear power.

Hansen also suggested our population was born too late. The planet had reasonably stable and predictable climate for the last 10,000 years. Today, that's no longer the case. Enormous problems, as Hansen put it in closing.

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