The Dilemma Over Coal Generated Power

60 Minutes: Coal Power Plants Supply Power To Millions, But Cutting Carbon Dioxide Could Take A Long Time

The power industry spent billions in the 1990's 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.

"Our goal line is substantially to reduce our carbon footprint, to de-carbonize our business, by 2050," he explained.

"Four decades? That's a long time," Pelley remarked.

"Well, it took a hundred years to get to where we are. And we can't do this overnight," Rogers said.

But Jim Hansen, NASA's top climate scientists, says 2050 is too late. "We will have guaranteed disasters for our children, grandchildren, and the unborn," he said.

Hansen is credited with some of the earliest and most accurate projections of climate change. He thinks Roger's plan leaves the Earth in the oven decades too long.

"We are going to have to phase out emissions from coal within the next 20 years if we hope to prevent climate disasters," Hansen told Pelley.

"Are you saying we can't build any new coal fired power plants in this country?" Pelley asked.

"Absolutely, not only in this country, but in the world. This is not yet understood. 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 have to preserve the climate like the one that has existed the last several thousand years," Hansen said.

You know, Jim Rogers will hasten to tell you he does share your sense of urgency," Pelley remarked.

"Well, his plan doesn't match that," Hansen replied.

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," Pelley pointed out.

"I am following through on what is job one for me, making sure my customers have affordable, reliable, clean electricity," Rogers said.

Asked what would happen if we abandoned coal at this point, Rogers said, "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."