CBS’s Pelley Blames Coal Industry for Global Warming

Scott Pelley, CBS On Sunday’s CBS ‘60 Minutes,’ anchor Scott Pelley, who once remarked that global warming critics were the equivalent of Holocaust deniers, identified the American coal industry as one of the main culprits of climate change: "The future of our climate might be summed up in one question, what do we do about coal? Coal generates nearly half the electricity in the United States and in the world. But it is the dirtiest fuel of all when it comes to carbon dioxide, or CO-2, the leading greenhouse gas. A few days ago, the Obama administration declared, for the first time, that CO-2 is a threat to human health and it plans to impose limits."

Pelley’s story did feature a representative of the coal industry, Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers, who actually called for limitations on carbon emissions: "It's my judgment it is a problem. We need to go to work on it now. And it's critical that we start to act in this country...Our goal line is substantially to reduce our carbon footprint, to de-carbonize our business, by 2050." However, that wasn’t good enough for Pelley: "Four decades? That's a long time."

Pelley followed up by citing left-wing global warming activist Jim Hansen: "2050 is too late. We will have guaranteed disasters for our children, grandchildren, and the unborn." Pelley explained: "Jim Hansen is NASA's top climate scientist. He's credited with some of the earliest and most accurate projections on climate change. He thinks that Rogers plan leaves the Earth in the oven decades too long."

Hansen went on to call for an end to the coal industry: "We are going to have to phase out emissions from coal within the next 20 years if we hope to prevent climate disasters." Pelley asked: "Are you saying that we can't build any new coal-fired power plants in this country?" Hansen replied: "Absolutely, not only in this country, but in the world. This is not yet understood. That we are going to have to have a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants within the next few years, and phase out the existing ones over the next 20 years, or so, if we hope to preserve a climate like the one that has existed the last several thousand years."

Later, Rogers called for government investment in clean coal technology: "What we need in this country is what I would call a Marshall Plan...We need to rebuild our economy and transition it to a low-carbon economy. We can do that. But it's going to take trillions of dollars to do it." Pelley attacked Rogers’ own lack of investment in the new technology: "But come on, you admit to being the third largest carbon producer in the United States. You tell me that carbon sequestration is the future, because we can't afford to live without coal. But then you tell me you haven't invested any money in carbon sequestration."

Later, Pelley again expressed his displeasure at Rogers’ slow pace of adopting clean coal processes: "Now, Rogers has broken ground on his two new coal-fired plants, despite warnings from top scientists like NASA's Jim Hansen. So, when Jim Hansen says that to save the planet, we should stop building coal-fired power plants today, you say what?" Rogers replied: "I say, 'Mr. Hansen, can't get done, won't get done. We've got to keep our economy going. We've got to make the transition. And I'm going to do everything I can with the greatest sense of urgency to make the transition. But to do what you ask me to do now is just not doable.'"

Pelley concluded his report: "President Obama wants to speed up cleaner technologies by taxing utilities for the carbon they produce. But that idea is meeting some stiff resistance in Congress." Interesting that none of that "stiff resistance" from Congress was featured in the story.

Here is a portion of the segment:

7:21PM

SCOTT PELLEY: The future of our climate might be summed up in one question, what do we do about coal? Coal generates nearly half the electricity in the United States and in the world. But it is the dirtiest fuel of all when it comes to carbon dioxide, or CO-2, the leading greenhouse gas. A few days ago, the Obama administration declared, for the first time, that CO-2 is a threat to human health and it plans to impose limits. But making coal safe will come at an astronomical cost. After the economy, this could be the biggest debate in Washington. And one of the most influential people in all of this is Jim Rogers. Coal has made Rogers and his company rich, and that's why we were surprised to hear what this high-flying power baron has to say about what coal does to the environment. Jim Rogers wanted us to see America's enormous dependency on coal, so he flew us out to see one of his 20 coal-burning power plants.

JIM ROGERS: I remember the first time I took a helicopter to look down at a power plant like this. I was 41 years old and I said, 'oh, my goodness, I'm responsible for that!'

PELLEY: Rogers is the CEO of Duke Energy, the nation's third largest electric utility. His smoke stacks pump out 100 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, which makes what comes out of Rogers' mouth so surprising. Controlling carbon emissions in the near future is inevitable, in your view? This is going to happen?

ROGERS: It's inevitable, in my judgment.

PELLEY: You're one of the biggest polluters in the world when it comes to carbon emissions.

ROGERS: We're one of the largest emitters. And it tells you how daunting the challenge is that we have in front of us.

PELLEY: You know, there are a lot of people, many of them in your industry, many people that who you probably know, who say that global warming is not a big problem.

ROGERS: It's my judgment it is a problem. We need to go to work on it now. And it's critical that we start to act in this country.

PELLEY: Like a reformed tobacco executive, Rogers says we can't survive the emissions his industry creates. He showed us what he means at a North Carolina power station that can light up one and a half million homes. How much coal does this plant burn in a given day?

ROGERS: Every day, this plant burns roughly 19,000 tons of coal. That's two train loads, and each train has about 100 cars.

PELLEY: This is what that looks like. See the train in the foreground and the train in the background? It's the same train, a mile long. The fact is, America runs on coal, and here's one of the reasons why. The Powder River Basin that stretches across Wyoming and Montana may be the largest coal reserve on Earth. We've got 200 years worth of reserves, cheap and right under our feet. No wonder coal generates half of our electricity. But here's the brutal part -- coal is twice as dirty as natural gas, and puts more carbon dioxide in the air than all of our cars and trucks. In short, we're caught between a rock and a hot place. You know, I notice all of this coming out of the stacks. What is that?

ROGERS: That's good news. When you see a plume coming out of a stack of a power plant, that's vapor. And it basically says that this is -- the emissions have been cleaned.

PELLEY: The power industry spent billions in the 1990s cleaning up much of the sulfur and nitrogen oxides that cause acid rain. But those pollutants are mere drops in a stream of carbon dioxide. Rogers says getting rid of the carbon will require a new federal law to limit emissions and a new technology to clean up coal. At the same time, he says, Duke will transition to more wind, solar, and nuclear power.

ROGERS: Our goal line is substantially to reduce our carbon footprint, to de-carbonize our business, by 2050.

PELLEY: Four decades? That's a long time.

ROGERS: Well, it took a hundred years to get to where we are, and we can't do this overnight.

JIM HANSEN: 2050 is too late. We will have guaranteed disasters for our children, grandchildren, and the unborn.

PELLEY: Jim Hansen is NASA's top climate scientist. He's credited with some of the earliest and most accurate projections on climate change. He thinks that Rogers plan leaves the Earth in the oven decades too long.

HANSEN: We are going to have to phase out emissions from coal within the next 20 years if we hope to prevent climate disasters.

PELLEY: Are you saying that we can't build any new coal-fired power plants in this country?

HANSEN: Absolutely, not only in this country, but in the world. This is not yet understood. That we are going to have to have a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants within the next few years, and phase out the existing ones over the next 20 years, or so, if we hope to preserve a climate like the one that has existed the last several thousand years.

PELLEY: You know, Jim Rogers will hasten to tell you he does share your sense of urgency.

HANSEN: Well, his plan doesn't match that.

PELLEY: In fact, right now, Rogers is building two new coal plants. You're talking a great game, but you're building coal-fired power plants.

ROGERS: I am following through on what is job one for me -- making sure my customers have affordable, reliable, clean electricity.

PELLEY: And if we abandon coal at this point?

ROGERS: We can't abandon coal. We have to find a way to keep it and use it in the future, and that means the ability to clean it up.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC