Hot Docs: Clean Coal Program Shift 'Not Well Considered,' Plastics in the Ocean

Today's selection of timely reports.


Clean Coal Program Shift Flawed: A Department of Energy decision to alter course on a program to develop a clean coal power plant potentially involving some $1.3 billion in federal funding was "not well considered." That is the conclusion of a Government Accountability Office study entitled "Clean Coal: DOE's Decision to Restructure FutureGen Should Be Based on a Comprehensive Analysis of Costs, Benefits, and Risks." The Energy Department's FutureGen program was originally unveiled in 2003. In partnership with the electric power industry and later with the coal industry, it set as its goal the designing and building of the "world's first coal-fired, zero-emissions power plant." The report finds that the decision to shift from what was originally a research and development project to a commercial demonstration project was not based on a "comprehensive analysis of factors, such as the associated costs, benefits, and risks." The GAO called on DOE to re-examine its decision based on those factors.

Plastics and Other Synthetics Litter the Oceans and Shores: Synthetic materials such as packing straps, tarps, nets, plastic bags, and food containers have supplanted organic matter as the most commonly dumped items in the world's waterways. These items, according to an Ocean Conservancy's report, "A Rising Tide of Ocean Debris," are highly buoyant, can last for years, and kill thousands of marine mammals that become trapped in the material or are poisoned by eating it. The data were drawn from the organization's annual International Coastal Cleanup in September, which deployed 400,000 volunteers who collected about 6.8 million pounds of trash. Of the 43 items tracked during the cleanup, cigarette butts, plastic bags, food wrappers, and containers lead the list. The Ocean Conservancy calls for less packaging of products, more recycling, and the use of cloth grocery bags to help alleviate the problem.

Window Still Open on Test Ban Treaty: President Obama should not let other pressing issues forestall efforts to get the Senate to ratify the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, argues the cofounder of the Henry L. Stimson Center, a nonprofit devoted to "enhancing international peace and security." The treaty has been ratified by 148 states, but nine of 44 states specifically named in the treaty still have to ratify it in order to put it into force. Among those countries are the United States, China, India, Israel, and Pakistan. "Entry into force of the Test Ban would symbolize the end of the nuclear arms race," Barry Blechman writes in "Don't Miss This Opportunity to End Nuclear Testing—Once and For All." "It means that nations recognize that the dangers of nuclear weapons exceed any possible benefits and that states will therefore no longer pursue the development of new types of weapons."