In The Oregonian, a Skewed View of the Energy World

By December 28, 2008General

Continuing to look at the Page 1 piece in today’s Sunday Oregonian, “PGE confronts dirty dilemma at Boardman,” we find it represents a fine distillation of the conventional, environmentally tinged wisdom that predominates in American newsrooms. You can see it just in the assumptions…

Inside the plant’s 260-foot-tall furnace, 32 flamethrowing burners ignite the cloud of talcum-size coal particles into a roiling, 3,000-degree ball of noxious gases and ash.

Like a miniature sun, the ongoing eruption creates enough energy to power 280,000 homes served by the plant’s part owner and operator, Portland General Electric. It’s 19th-century technology.But it’s reliable and cheap.

Unfortunately, its [sic] also dirty. Very dirty.

Really nasty, dirty, dirty, dirty.

Well, dirty is in the bemoted eye of the beholder, but NO, the Boardman’s plant is not 19th-century technology. It’s either 50,000 B.C. technology, combustion, or it’s modern technology complete with scrubbers and other emissions controls, burning coal efficiently through high temperatures and transmitting megawatts of electricity through the power grid. Don’t recall any of that in 19th-century Manchester.

Northwesterners love to boast about all the cheap, clean hydroelectric power generated in the region. But the dirty little secret is that coal-fired power plants still provide 40 percent of Oregon’s electricity — about the same percentage as hydro.

Dirty little secret? To whom? Consumers and activists who like to pretend otherwise? Policymakers and, one presumes, journalists know full well that coal is the No. 1 source of electrical generation in the United States; in 2007, 48.6 percent of U.S. electricity was generated from coal. It’s not a secret, dirty or otherwise; you can look it up lots of places.

“It’s not just carbon regulations. We don’t know what gas prices will be, what coal prices will do,” said Jim Piro, who takes over as PGE’s chief executive this week. “If everything was known and knowable, it would be an easy analysis.”

Piro is no global-warming denier. But like many in his industry, he’s convinced that renewables and energy efficiencies can’t meet all the power demands of Northwest consumers. So-called clean coal will play a crucial role, he says.

Ah, so-called clean coal. “So-called” is common journalese for “yeah, what a bunch of garbage.” And we find it hard to believe that Piro said, “Oh, yes, so-called clean coal…”

More importantly, what do the reporter and editors mean by the phrase, “no global-warming denier?” That Piro is a serious man we should give credence to because he accepts that human activity is causing global warming? That sure seems to be the implication, which also suggests that someone who challenges that theory and its public policy implications is beyond the pale, not to be listened to.

The term global-warming denier” is morally and intellectually offensive, a comparison to “Holocaust deniers” used by the most radical of the environmentalist left to bludgeon opponents into silence.  That it’s now acceptable phrasing in a major newspaper’s Page 1 story tells us the green bullies are making headway.

For decades the media have discussed bringing “diversity” into the newsroom, and recently that discussion has turned to the idea of promoting philosophical and political diversity, that is, adding a few conservatives to the overwhelmingly liberal reporting and editing staff. (See this farewell column from Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell for an example.)

Sounds like a reasonable goal. At least readers should expect the employment of a few journalists who, when asked to cover the energy sector and utilities, don’t wrinkle their noses and reflexively adopt the environmental world view (and rhetoric) that regard fossil fuels as bad and morally corrupt.

Earlier post: “In Oregon, A Skewed View of the Energy World

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