Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Methane from Santee Cooper

Two pieces on Santee Cooper and their proposed coal plant appear in the Post and Courier today. One is a recap of the issue, in preparation for the DHEC hearing tomorrow in Pamplico, the other is a Q&A with S-C Sultan Lonnie Carter.

In the Q&A and the article, Lonnie Carter reels off a series of chestnutts like these:

"In some ways it can be a little bit gaudy to think that we can actually affect the climate, actually change it or stop something that's going on."
Gaudy? That says it all doesn't it? No matter that the vast majority of the worlds geologists, climatologists, and meteorologists agree that global warming is happening and that burning fossil fuels is the cause. And, heck, even if they are right, we can't do anything about it, so we might as well burn a bunch of coal! People who think otherwise are just gaudy.
"I don't know [if utilities contribute to global warming]. If you listen to the scientists and how they parse out the data, the utility is a portion. Transportation is another good-sized portion, and then you have the residential and industrial side. They aren't hugely different in terms of percentages."
According to an inventory of SC's GHG emissions, electricity accounts for over 36% -- the #1 contributor. I comes down to this: Lonnie Carter & Santee Cooper just doesn't think there is anything wrong w/ coal. He's not worried about its negative consequences for the health, the environment or the economy of the state.
"I didn't coin this, but we're the Saudi Arabia of coal. We have so much coal available to us. It's a natural resource. We get over 50 percent of our current electricity from coal. We can't abandon coal. It's got to be part of our future for those reasons."
This is the best proof yet that S-C is behind the recent coal marketing going on in this state; this mirrors exactly the "Americans for Balanced Energy Choices" talking points. S-C is nothing if not "on message." In fact, the size of RECOVERABLE coal reserves is far from certain. But maybe the work of the National Academy of Sciences is too "rabid." Instead let's rely figures produced by the National Mining Association.

Are people willing to accept the high toll of mining increasingly difficult-to-access coal? Mountain top removal and mining accidents are two examples. Also, east-coast utilites like Santee Cooper routinely IMPORT coal from foreign nations like Venezuela. So, its hardly "America's fuel" in practice. Still, Lonnie Carter would have us emulate Saudi Arabia; he makes a good Sheik of what amounts to a little rogue Emirate (i.e. Santee Cooper) within the state of South Carolina. Big Coal, indeed.
"Remember what I said before, every carbon-based fuel, even wood and biofuels, all those things, have carbon emissions."
True, except that carbon emissions from biofuels don't contribute to global warming, since the embodied carbon in biofuels is part of the globe's carbon cycle, whereas the emissions from coal, by virtue of the fuel being dug out of the earth and burned, is not. If Lonnie Carter doesn't know this, then why are biofuels part of S-C's goal to produce 40% of its power from non-GHG sources by 2020?
"I've heard there are more greenhouse gases from livestock on the globe than any other source."
Totally absurd. There's no question that current livestock husbandry has a significant impact on the environment, including GHG emissions. They are not the leading source of GHG emissions, however. To suggest otherwise is brilliant, but wrong.
"Don't expect me as a utility executive to arbitrarily tax my customers for a problem that the rest of the world needs to deal with."
So what about the impact of a carbon tax or a cap and trade system on the rates of Santee Cooper's customers after Santee Cooper arbitrarily insists on building three more coal-burning units in South Carolina? We are talking hundreds of million dollars annually using conservative estimates. Who will pay? Not Santee Cooper. If that is not a tax on Santee Cooper's customers, I don't know what is. Or if you don't believe the U.S. will ever get around to regulating carbon (wishful thinking), how about raising rates on your customers to build new generation so that you can lower rates even further for your industrial customers. Is that taxing your customers? S-C is alledged to have done just that in a recently filed class action law suit.
"A lot is said about where mercury comes from in our waters. The information I get from the EPA is that it's not coming from U.S. power plants. According to the information they put out is that power plants contribute only 1% percent of the mercury."
Does the EPA really contend this? (If so, someone please reference the study). Is China responsible for the contamination of the Pee Dee rivers? I refer you back to the excellent story on mercury produced by the P&C: "Coal, Power and Poison."
"When we normally talk about emissions, you talk about tons, but when you talk about mercury, you talk about pounds, because we're talking about small quantities."
One drop of mercury (about the amount in a thermometer) falling in rain a year can contaminate fish in a 20-acre lake, and one pound of mercury is enough to contaminate 500,000 fish. Most of SC's waterways are already contaminated with mercury. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Carter goes on to evade direct questions on the following topics: why have you chosen coal for the Pee Dee project? Have you examined the economic risks of coal in a carbon-constrained economy? to Santee Cooper? to your rate-payers? Shouldn't we be concerned about the build up of Mercury in SC's water? Doesn't S-C have a moral/ethical responsibility with respect to the health of South Carolinians?

Just add these to the list of unanswered questions...


Anonymous said...

John, regardless of what your last name is or is not, I want you to know that I'm a fan. There's something to be said for not letting facts stand in the way of a good rant. Still, I feel compelled to provide the following links, in case you'd like to start looking a bit more mature and a bit less ridiculous any time soon.

Your own article says that livestock account for 9% of global CO2 emissions, about 35-40% of global methane emissions (methane is ~23x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2), and about 65% of global nitrous oxide emissions (nitrous oxide is ~296x more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2). This comes out to over 18% of total anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (pg. 136-137).

I realize the article you linked is a difficult read. I'll keep an eye on your website and help out next time you have trouble, too. Still, I'm surprised that a climate and energy guru like yourself missed this article from popular Time magazine, which was easier to browse:,28804,1602354_1603074_1603171,00.html

Finally, the EPA website is notoriously difficult to search, so I've provided some mercury-related links as well. I assume this is the type of information Mr. Carter was referring to. You might find the deposition and global mercury emissions links particularly enlightening.

Easy, graphical overview here:

More information here:

Next time, it might be better to simply say "You know, I don't know why, but I just don't like so-and-so or such-and-such," rather than trying to smear them with studies you haven't seen and papers you haven't read. It might also be better to admit "I don't understand this - could someone please enlighten me?" rather than using your ignorance as an excuse to find something sinister in others.

I'm just trying to help. Have a nice weekend.

Anonymous said...

John! Shame on you! Mr. Carter is right! Livestock's 18% GHG contribution IS MORE THAN TRANSPORTATION's GHG portion! I call that significant. You should remove this shameful story ASAP! How many of your other stories on are just as skewed?

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that. ALL OF THEM! I think all of them are very entertaining, but written in a really smarmy, uninformed tone. Read some of your links, John!

Mike said...

You're the one who's sounding smarmy to me!

John Mellor said...


Your Time magazine link/citation leads nowhere, but I was able to find the article on the Time site, only to find that it references the UN study I cited in my post.

When I review that study, I too read that GHG emissions from the livestock industry amount to something between 14% and 18% of the total contribution. To me, that means livestock is a contributor to global GHG emissions, not “more greenhouse gases [come] from livestock on the globe than any other source.”

Of course, the fact is that the leading source of GHG emissions globally is the energy supply sector (i.e. utilities) at 26%. This is also the fastest growing sector. Source:

These are global numbers. In the United States the electric power industry is also the number one source of GHG emissions, with an even bigger share of the total (34%), followed by transportation (28%). Agriculture clocks in at 8%. Source: The same is roughly true in South Carolina, as I pointed out in my post.

I read the EPA information you sent along and nowhere did I find support for Lonnie Carter’s assertion that “[Mercury] it's not coming from U.S. power plants.” In fact it says “coal combustion and waste disposal most likely bear the greatest responsibility for direct
anthropogenic mercury deposition to the continental U.S” – coal plants contribute as much as 41%.

It goes on to say at least 38% of the Mercury produced by burning coal, incinerating trash, etc. in the U.S. falls back on U.S. soils and waterways.

Further it says that Mercury deposition is expected to be higher in the South than in other regions.

Of course, the EPA admits that these numbers are the result of modeling, and that more empirical studies are warranted.

The few empirical studies that have been conducted (e.g. in the Great Lakes region) find that local sources (e.g. coal plants) are the predominant cause of local mercury pollution.

Thanks for the help.

Anonymous said...

Dear John,

As always, I'm here to help. The Time link works fine for me. Try this: highlight it by left clicking with your mouse, starting at the beginning of the link, then dragging all the way to the end. Then hit "Control" and "C" simultaneously. Finally go to the address bar of your internet browser and hit "Control" and "V" simultaneously. Then hit "Return" and the link should lead you to a new website. I suspect you didn't highlight the whole thing - an easy mistake, given the length of the link.

With regard to Mr. Carter's statement about livestock, you originally said that animal agriculture's greenhouse gas contribution was "insignificant" compared to electrical generation. I see that's been changed, but I merely pointed out that livestock's contribution is 18% - hardly insignificant. Then I pointed you to a shorter, easier-to-read and -understand article on the subject. I will try to spell these things out more clearly for you in the future.

Regarding mercury, I just thought you might enjoy browsing the EPA website, where you would find charts confirming Mr. Carter's statement that US power plants are responsible for roughly 1% of global mercury emissions. Again, though, the EPA does no one any favors when it comes to an easily searchable site. No harm, no foul. If you followed the second link I provided, you should have seen links to a number of charts. The fourth chart, linked below, shows that US power plants contribute 1% of global mercury emissions. I will point you more directly to these facts in the future.


(I have double-checked this link - if you have trouble with it, please review the copy-and-paste instructions above.)

More empirical data? Seek and ye shall find (though maybe not with the EPA website - sometimes it really is easier to use google and include "EPA" as one of the serach terms). The Mercury Deposition Network (linked here: does not show high levels of mercury deposition in South Carolina. Based on the limited sample data and other complex, but important, variables such as the weather, it's difficult to identify a trend from the time series of maps provided; but I think you'd have to say mercury deposition seems to be generally decreasing over the past few years. More good news at the following links (specific charts taken from the second link I provided originally):


On the EPA pages I linked, I don't see the information you reference. I guess it's my turn to look dumb. Anyway, here's what I see:

"U.S. anthropogenic mercury emissions are estimated to account for roughly three percent of the global total, and emissions from the U.S. power sector are estimated to account for about one percent of total global emissions. (United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Chemicals, Global Mercury Assessment, Geneva, 2002.).

EPA has estimated that about one third of U.S. emissions are deposited within the contiguous U.S. and the remainder enters the global cycle. Current estimates are that less than half of all mercury deposition within the U.S. comes from U.S. sources. However there are regional differences in these numbers. For example, U.S. sources represent a greater fraction of the total deposition in parts of the Northeast because of the direction of the prevailing winds."

In any case, I take more issue with your unnecessarily harsh characterization of someone you've probably never even met than with your misunderstanding of the numbers, mischaracterization of the results of a multitude of studies (especially the Cooperatives' studies - MERCY! Link:, or your trouble searching the EPA website. That type of behavior bothers me - I'd like to believe we can disagree without being disagreeable or coarse. For instance, I've chosen not to look for something sinister or dishonest in the way you altered your original post after my first, and only, comment.

I hope we're on the same page now. Have a nice evening.

Your humble servant,
and, still,
Your biggest fan,


John Mellor said...


Thanks again. I hope this exchange (documented as it has been with a number of primary sources) will be helpful to our readers.

I revised my post since, as you point out, the contribution of the livestock industry to global GHG emissions is not insignificant.

However, I must point out that you continue to dodge my point: the electric power sector, both internationally, in the United States and particularly in South Carolina is by far the leading source of GHG emissions. As a utility that gets almost all of its power from burning coal, Santee Cooper ought to acknowledge that unambiguously and publicly. It also ought to take responsibility for its disproportionate contribution to this problem.

I also have to point out that you've dodged my point on mercury: U.S. coal plants are the number one source of mercury pollution in this country. You can talk about our international contribution, that is not the question; the question here is Santee Cooper's proposed coal plant and what it means for South Carolina.

A very large share of the mercury pollution from our coal plants falls out nearby. The Pee Dee plant will pollute Florence County and surrounding areas with mercury.

Lastly, I'm surprised that you would suggest that mercury pollution is not a problem in South Carolina. I urge you to site your evidence that mercury pollution is decreasing in this state.

Your claim is at odds with DHEC's warning to the people of this state: eating the fish in all of our major waterways is not safe because of mercury.

It is also at odds with the Post and Courier's recent investigation of the mercury problem in South Carolina.

They found that people across the state have dangerously high levels of mercury in their bodies.

Doctors in our state are warning us of an impending public health problem.

Why deny these issues?

Let's not allow Santee Cooper to continue a coal plant construction binge that will only worsen mercury pollution in our state.

Anonymous1 said...

Hello John,

I haven't had a chance to look at your website in a few days, so I'm sorry for the slow response. You have done a great job with the site - cleaner, friendlier, easier to look at. Nice job.

Now, respectfully, I'm afraid you have misread my posts. I've not tried to dodge anything - I'm only interested in correcting errors in your previous posts. We seem to have made some progress, as your corrections to date prove.

I certainly haven't said that Santee Cooper doesn't release greenhouse gases (GHG) in its plants. I only put your error into perspective. I do think that, practically, you all run the risk of "cutting off your nose to spite your face." Santee Cooper, and The State of South Carolina, for that matter, have a generally excellent environmental record. As it turns out, South Carolina gets only about 40% of its electricity from coal - less than the national average, which is more than 50% (Fig. 2.1, pg. 32 Further, Santee Cooper has more, better pollution control equipment than most other utilities ( It seems to me they're doing a nice job. We are better off economically and environmentally because they provide most of our power. Really, it shocks me that anyone would suggest otherwise. I do not want to see my state handicapped.

I have not said there's no mercury problem; I've merely pointed you to what the EPA says, that US sources do not account for very much of the total emissions ( or of deposition within the United States (see above post with quote, plus here: With this in mind, I'd suggest that it's foolish to handicap ourselves economically if doing so will not produce a measurable local effect. I further pointed you to a link that shows a general decrease in mercury deposition over the last 6 or 7 years (, while also admitting that there were not enough data points to be sure that's "real" good news, rather than mere interpolation error from insufficient data. Similar maps are here (,, and, I pointed you to a bar chart that shows that the Clean Air Mercury Reduction rule will reduce mercury deposition further (

Now, I've already posted these links twice and it seems that you're either not reading them or not understanding them. I certainly can't force you to read them, but I'll be glad to help you understand them if I can.

It seems to me that you might be confused between the issues of mercury in fish tissue and mercury deposition. I think that's why you cite the P&C articles in response to material I linked concerning mercury deposition. I realize that depending on one's background, there might be a bit of a leap between these two issues. I suppose you and I have differing definitions of what amount of mercury is likely to be significant and what amount is not; however, I think we can agree that less mercury deposition = less mercury in fish. Certainly it's a lot more complicated than that, but it's a start. Now, please notice the EPA deposition maps showing deposition due to power plants in 2001 ( and 2020, after CAMR has taken effect ( Notice that in 2020, US power plants will be responsible for roughly the same amount of Hg deposition as currently occurs in California. California has few - if any - coal plants, and nothing but the ocean and the global mercury cycle upwind of it. We will reach that level soon with the rules currently in effect. I think we can agree that's a wonderful thing. And it's even better that we can do it without taking draconian measures that will hurt our economy, the poor, and others who need reliable energy. I think it's awesome that sometimes we can get things done for our environment without being alarmists.

Just my opinion. I hope I've helped.