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From the week of November 3, 2005

Cure for the Common Coal

Temperature's rising:Alan Prendergast's "Carbon Loading," in the October 27 issue, was informed and intelligent. It's good to see an in-depth article on energy issues.

We're all so dependent on fossil fuels, yet their effects are largely invisible, so we ignore the problem. We simply can't do that anymore. Burning coal for fuel is a dirty and dangerous technology. All of us take in lung irritants and mercury particles because we burn coal to produce electricity.

But the growing menace of global warming will likely make us all forget the more obvious pollutants released when we burn coal. We haven't had a cold winter in Colorado since the early 1990s. And when I was a kid, we didn't get rain in October; we got snow. Those unusually powerful hurricanes in the Caribbean this year are feeding on our warming oceans; how bad will our hurricanes be by mid-century? We humans are wreaking havoc with the climate while Xcel blunders forward with plans for an outdated technology.

If Xcel continues to stonewall on alternative energy, I'd like to see a massive lawsuit against them. Their pollutants help kill thousands of Coloradans each year, and their mercury impairs the neurological activity in thousands of children while they announce reasons not to pursue wind and solar power. A big fat lawsuit might make them reconsider the possibilities of clean energy.

Rebecca Dickson
Boulder

What's old is renewed:I am delighted to learn that Xcel Energy will build a new coal plant. It means more trees, rainforests, endangered animals, and more food for hungry people all over the Earth. Coal was living trees millions of years ago, and burning it causes the same results as burning renewable fuels like wood: Sunlight and water plus the carbon dioxide and minerals released cause new trees to grow, and that cycle can continue forever. The difference is that fossil fuels have been locked in the Earth, unavailable to living forms until humans restored them to the biosphere. Research shows that wood growth doubled during the twentieth century in remote and non-"fertilized" areas, while cereal grasses grew more abundant, too.

Fossil fuels have been called "non-renewable." The truth is, once burnt, they are then available over and over and over again as wood or corn or other renewable fuels. Hence, fossil fuels -- and only fossil fuels -- increase the abundance of life on Earth, and only fossil fuels generate more power than they use: They are super-renewable.

Humans are living longer, and that may also be due to releasing fossil fuels from their long confinement: Our stimulus to breathe is carbon dioxide, not oxygen. The fossil record shows that life was once much more abundant on Earth, and we are only restoring it to more normal levels. Many legends and myths claim that humans once lived for centuries. Xcel Energy is raising the life expectancy of us all.

Esther Cook
Denver

Electric shock:Thanks for covering the sordid saga of the proposed new Pueblo coal plant. The details of the approval process for this facility, in front of the Public Utilities Commission and in the state Department of Public Health and Environment, are nothing short of shocking.

The shame of the matter is that if the plant is built, our state government's failure to do its job will cost citizens hundreds of millions of dollars more than programs of aggressive energy-efficiency measures combined with cost-competitive renewables.

Eric Johnson
Longmont

Gas up:Alan Prendergast's memories of the Carter era, including cheap and abundant natural gas, are quite different from mine. During the Carter era, natural gas was only cheap because the federal government regulated the price. Unfortunately, at the price the federal government chose to set, insufficient drilling and exploration took place and shortages followed. During the late '70s and very early '80s, factories, schools and power plants were routinely unable to secure all of the natural gas they required. Daily shortages of natural gas were particularly acute in the eastern regions of the country. In response, Congress passed the Power Plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act of 1978, which banned the use of natural gas in new power plants and industrial boilers.

When I joined the natural-gas industry after graduating from the University of Colorado in 1979, I was told I had made a mistake. I was warned that we would run out of natural gas within the next four years. It was not until the government stopped manipulating prices that exploration for natural gas returned as an attractive business endeavor, shortages eased and the Power Plant and Industrial Fuel Use Act was rescinded.

Brian Jeffries
Longmont


Mall-to-Mall Carpeting

Thinking out of the big box:I've read plenty of articles decrying urban sprawl and placing the blame at the foot of the developer, but Jared Jacang Maher's "Malled!," in the October 20 issue, was one of the best. It was thorough, well-researched and clearly written.

Everyone seems to think they aren't part of the problem (nice to see an interviewee take some responsibility for his choice of address), and that we can all be saved by city zoning regulations. Guess what? Not necessarily true. The city has a hidden agenda to balance budget-sucking housing developments with budget-enhancing retail. Jared's article shows why every town feels they need a big-box center on "their side of the fence" -- only to increase sprawl and costly infrastructure improvements.

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