Bloomberg at ARPA-E: “Coal is a Dead Man Walking”

Last week, several BERC student and alumni members attended the 4th ARPA-E Annual Innovation Summit.  Check out the live blog: http://berc-arpa-e.tumblr.com/.

The Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) was started under Secretary of Energy (and former LBNL Director) Steven Chu.  Based on the model of DARPA, the Defense Department R&D agency that funded the development of the Internet, stealth bombers, and GPS, ARPA-E is tasked with catalyzing transformative energy technologies. 

Michael Bloomberg, 108th Mayor of New York City, gave a keynote that was both lighthearted and serious. “ARPA-E may well be [Chu’s] most lasting achievement [as Secretary of Energy],” Bloomberg said. Quoting ARPA-E’s founding Director (and former Berkeley mechanical engineering professor) Arun Majumdar, Bloomberg extolled the agency’s ethos: “Promoting the stuff that sounds crazy, until it changes the world”.

Focusing on a coal-fired power plant near Washington DC that he flew by on his way to the Summit, Bloomberg delivered an assault on the past, present, and future of coal.  This wasn’t surprising given his support for the Sierra Club’s ‘Beyond Coal’ initiative, but its vociferousness was, as in this speech excerpt:

“There’s a sustainable future we all want.  A future where the air we breathe [will be] far cleaner, we will be more secure from the dangers posed by climate change, and where our economy will be on a far firmer and more secure footing. First, as to energy policy’s polluting past, it can be summed up in one word: coal.  And even though the coal industry doesn’t totally know it yet or is ready to admit it, its day is done. It used to be said that ‘coal is king’, and regrettably coal continues to be king [in some parts of the world]…but here in the US, I’m happy to say, the king is dead.  Coal is a dead man walking.”

Speaking to the relative dangers of coal to other energy forms, the Mayor said, “13,000 deaths each year [in the U.S.] are linked to coal-burning power plants.  The last time I checked, there was not one death from fracked natural gas, nor one death from nuclear plants, but it’s coal that is really killing Americans.  And if we can get rid of that, nothing is perfect, but we’d certainly be better off with virtually all of the alternatives.”