Clean Coal

China has burned coal since before the 20th century, but the trend of investing in clean coal is a phenomenon that has only taken place in recent decades. To its credit, the country has led the world in construction of high-efficiency coal power plants in recent years, yet there may be ulterior motives at play. Pew Charitable Trusts named China as the country with the highest investment in clean energy last year, but that fact is overshadowed when one sees that China generated over 83 percent of its electricity from coal last year (Bradsher, 2011). Alternative energies – such as wind turbines and hydroelectric dams – only run when enough wind or water is available, while coal-burning facilities operate uninterrupted day and night. As a result, China has invested billions of dollars in support of clean coal, despite how significant a misnomer that may be. Alternative energy strategies have received far less capital than those involving coal, and a worrisome amount of reform efforts have focused on merely finding ways to extend the shelf-life of China’s existing coal reserves. The question is: why is China investing in cleaner coal technology?

China’s stake in clean coal seems questionable when one considers that over 80 percent of its coal reserves do not meet the country’s standards for industrial use according to the government-run China Coal Research Institute. This is especially confounding given that China’s environmental regulators intend to further reduce allowable levels of sulfur. Adding to the headache, the country sits on the world’s third-largest coal reserves after Russia and the United States. From 2000 to 2010, China’s coal consumption rose over a staggering 180 percent (Bradsher, 2011). These facts depreciate the country’s commitment to clean coal initiatives because such policies may only result in further propping up crutches to support fossil fuels, as opposed to eliminating them.

Since 1949, China has suffered mostly from a shortage of coking coal, which is required for the steel industry. This shortage has limited the growth of the steel industry in China in addition to increasing the need for imports. Another problem is the unusual location of coal resources: approximately 80 percent of China’s coal is located in mountainous regions (Littlefield, 1996). Consequently, companies have started to employ the practice of blending different grades of coal to reduce the output of greenhouses gases. Such practices breed a host of their own problems, however. The aim is to reduce the pollutants that are generated by using mixtures of coal that burn more efficiently. The reality is that China must import record amounts of coal from other countries to find the balance it needs for the ideal coal cocktail necessitated by this new, costly infrastructure.

If a balanced perspective is to be achieved, China cannot be held solely accountable for its current situation. Coal mixing is done in Europe and the United States, and there has been substantial and influential investment from foreign entities in Chinese production in recent decades. Chinese manufacturers that dump waste into rivers or pump the sky full of smoke are providing stores in the United States and Europe with cheap products that outsell domestic competition. Often these manufacturers subcontract for foreign companies or are owned by them, and that investment must be weighed into China’s investments in coal.

Another interesting piece to this puzzle is the fact that coal prices have surged in recent years. China now finds itself with a looming energy crisis and the only solution it has appears to suggest burning the problem away. The Yangtze River, the site of the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, received 40 percent less water at its upper reaches this month compared with levels in the past three years (Kwiatkowski, 2011). Additionally, China has only one-fifth the water per capita as the United States; the southern region is relatively wet but the northern region is immensely parched and possibly succumbing to desertification. This pressure adds ammunition to the argument that China is investing in clean coal not primarily in the interest of reform, but in the interest of economy and immediacy. After all, China’s expansive coal industry is the foundation for its enormous growth over recent decades, despite equally enormous growth in its emissions.

Evidence abounds for such consequences of Chinese coal production and consumption: the amount of acid rain, smog, and soot levels have all increased measurably in recent years and cities, even as places like Beijing insist that they will accept no mandatory limit on carbon dioxide emissions. The authority that is exercised in prefects leads many to criticize the federal government for not cracking down on officials ignoring mandates, but regulations continue to be relegated. China’s problem has become the world’s problem. Sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides produced from coal plants fall as acid rain in Seoul and Tokyo. According to research, much of the particulate pollution over Los Angeles originates in China (Kahn & Yardley, 2007). Accordingly, many environmental activists and neighboring countries insist that China cannot follow the same path that so many others already have.

Only one percent of the country’s 560 million city-dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Even worse, the emissions of sulfur dioxide from coal and fuel oil, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular disease as well as acid drain, are increasing even faster than China’s economic growth. As far back as 1988, it was estimated that a full quarter of annual deaths in China were a result of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease linked to exposure to fine particulates, sulfur dioxide, and cigarette smoke among other factors (Littlefield, 1996). A report in 2005 prepared by Chinese environmental experts estimated that annual premature deaths attributable to outdoor air pollution were likely to reach 380,000 in 2010 and 550,000 in 2020 (Kahn & Yardley, 2007). The unspoken truth is that these environmental issues get harder and more expensive to address the longer they remain unresolved; moreso as China continues to create greater dependence on imported oil and coal.

China’s coal industry is alarming and wholly rooted in convenience versus responsibility.  The current blending technologies being invested in represent decades’ worth of investment and will pave the way for further dependency on coal with minimal improvements in pollution. Market conditions ensure that China will justify its expenditures: the cost of coal with high heat content doubled to $130 ton over the past 5 years (Bradsher, 2011). Reports with hard numbers for estimates of deaths resulting from air pollution are recommended to remain unpublished by state agencies for damage control.

The problem with China is that it has no model to follow: modern developed nations polluted their way to riches before they dealt with their environmental footprints.  The casualties as a result of the coal industry in China speak to the true pace of China’s attention on health regulations and pollution concerns. Furthermore, its investments in clean coal pose a stark threat to global considerations such as global warming, which have received renewed scientific scrutiny and support in recent years. The sheer amount of pollutants outweighs the marginal increase in efficiency they are gaining.

As China embraces the euphemism that is clean coal, it stands poised to proceed burning through its coal reserves until the very end, with only meager reductions in emissions. The situation has escalated and yet China remains an attractive location to offshore business, which drives production further. China is quick to point out modest gains in coal-processing efficiency, but it is equally eager to silence information that speaks to the devil in the details, when it should instead be focused on exploring ways to alleviate its dependence on coal.

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1Bradsher, K. (2011, June 14). A green solution, or the dark side to cleaner coal?. The New York Times, Retrieved from


3Kahn, J. & Yardley, J. (2007, August 26). As china roars, pollution reaches deadly extremes. The New York Times, Retrieved from

4Kwiatkowski, A. (2011, May 08).China coal prices rise for sixth weeks; inventories rebound. Retrieved from

5Littlefield, A. (1996). China and coal. TED Case Studies5(1), Retrieved from

Congressional hearings

 For the sheer amount of resources, ramifications, and rhetoric involved in Congressional hearings, the investigation process itself is still shrouded in mystery to the average citizen. The outcomes – budget authorizations, impeachment, and appropriations – are often a matter of public record once the investigation is over, but the proceeding itself may have little transparency. For better or worse, pending investigations require a degree of secrecy to protect the parties involved and the sensitivity of the subject matter. Yet, for inquiring minds that wish to understand the process better, one need look no further than accounts and transcriptions of previous investigations. Gina Yannitell Reinhardt uses such history to explore and explain the process of Congressional oversight.

When it comes to Congressional investigations, the primary bodies that are responsible for oversight are the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee (HSGAC) and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform (COGR). The Constitution and legal precedent have given investigative power to Congress as a whole, but the Senate and House of Representatives have delegated that power to specific committees, and to subcommittees within those. In total, there are 46 committees and approximately 169 subcommittees, 17 of which work in an oversight and/or investigatory capacity (Reinhardt, 2008). Still, this only further confounds the issue for those unfamiliar: who are the actual decision makers and from where does the direction for the investigation come?

The answer resides in the structure of the various committees and roles that are present elsewhere in Congress. Members of Congress themselves are at the top of the chain in a committee or subcommittee; they hold either the title of chair or ranking minority member. Both the chair and the ranking minority member have the ultimate say in what a committee staff will investigate. After the members of Congress, the most powerful personnel in a committee staff is the staff director or chief counsel. This role is reserved for a person who communicates directly with the chair or ranking minority member and serves as the lead decision maker within the committee office. It is the staff director’s job to ensure the staff are utilized according to their proficiencies.

The autonomy and privileges granted to the chair, ranking minority member, and staff director are responsible for most of the leeway in an investigation. Indeed, the preferences and interests of these individuals shape investigations outright, though other factors certainly temper that freedom. However, this means that from committee to committee, the methodologies may vary greatly as they are so dependent on the actual staff involved. Due to this discrepancy, the abundant number of potential topics, and the amount of agencies within each committee’s jurisdiction, there are many possibilities at any time regarding what an investigation will center on and how it will unfold.

The two greatest influences affecting a committee or subcommittee are therefore its decision-makers’ inclinations and its legal jurisdiction. The scope of jurisdiction is determined by the chamber who appoints the committee. Typically, a committee’s jurisdiction is based on topics of relevance. For example, the Senate Armed Forces Committee has jurisdiction to investigate matters relative to the Department of Defense, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the maintenance and operation of the Panama Canal, among other interests (United States Senate).

Within a committee’s jurisdiction, its power to investigate is substantial. Investigatory resources can be used to look at the private sector, non-profit organizations, and individuals. Due to the hierarchy of power, this means that a longstanding chair or ranking minority member might shift the focus of a committee to suit his or her specific agenda. For example, John Dingell served as the chair on the House Energy and Commerce Committee for over 15 non-consecutive years. He stated that his interest for the committee at one point consisted mostly of investigating the Bush administration’s handling of port security, the Medicare prescription drug program, and Dick Cheney’s energy task force. One of his most noteworthy affairs dealt with investigating the invention of a blood test for AIDS in relation to the National Institutes of Health (Crewdson, 1991).

After the decision makers determine which route the investigation will go, investigators are advised by staff directors as to which information they will collect. The investigative staff has numerous resources at their disposal, including three analytical government offices: the Congressional Budget Office, the Congressional Research Service, and the Congressional Accountability Office. Between these offices, hundreds of phone calls are answered each day to provide data, estimates, and potential outcomes relative to the issues of many congressional committees.

The committees themselves have the power to subpoena documents and information pertinent to their investigations. This power is granted separately depending on whether the committee resides under the Senate or House of Representatives, however a quorum – or legal majority – of committee members or the expressed consent of both the chair and ranking minority member are required prior to issuing any subpoenas. Two exceptions are the chairs of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (PSI) and the COGR – these individuals have been granted unilateral authority to issue subpoenas without consent or approval of other members.

Oftentimes, a subpoena is not necessary to elicit information from individuals or organizations. Many individuals and organizations are happy to tell their stories and provide supporting evidence, especially in light of a pending investigation and therefore the possibility for redress. Documents prove  to represent the best source for accurate data in many cases, as written records are found for many transactions. The information can ultimately be found in many places: from interviews, documents, transcriptions, hearings, and elsewhere. Hearings are useful because they can confirm the truth in any given situation through pointed questions and a variety of testimonies.

Checks and balances extend to this realm as well, and there is a ceiling for the degree of freedom a committee or subcommittee has to investigate any single issue. The matter must relate to the committee’s jurisdiction and have legislative relevance for it to be justified in terms of the functions of Congress. Essentially, committee staff investigate existing legislation to decide if the law is being broken and if adequate legislation is in place or imperative. One additional function of the staff is to determine if misconduct is being punished.

The outcome of an investigation can manifest in different ways. The hearing itself is one of the most visible aspects of an investigation and serves to establish the legal justification while extracting evidence and creating basis for future legislation. Usually the beginning of such a hearing will contain opening statements from the chair and ranking minority member, whereupon they may choose to express their personal impetus for pursuing the hearing. After these opening statements, panels of witnesses are questioned, with each panel typically composed of up to five witnesses. Members of committees are given a limited time to question witnesses, while senior members may have additional time. The chair decides how stringent the panel must adhere to these time limits.

Another byproduct of a hearing is a committee report. Many committees will release updates or internal memos before, during, and after hearings. Some of these reports serve to simply update the staff of new findings, while others can be expansive and inclusive documents hundreds of pages long. The larger documents usually serve a different purpose and act as platforms to launch new legislation and propagate regulatory change. A good example of such regulatory change would be the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which was introduced as a result of the Enron scandal and a series of hearings which took into account over two million pages of documents and over 100 witnesses. Finally, some hearings are sought solely to alert others of a particular issue. A particularly powerful example of government is when a hearing is held the same day that a relevant bill is launched, this gives the public an opportunity to quickly learn about an issue and what is being done to correct it.

Sometimes, an investigation reveals that a hearing is unnecessary. In this scenario, the committee will perhaps write a letter or convene a meeting between other members of Congress and agency staff. Another potential outcome is that an investigation reveals criminal activity, in which case Congress refers the evidence to regulatory agencies that can prosecute: the FBI, IRS, and FEC.

As Reinhardt properly pointed out, the reality is that the power to direct investigations lies in the hands of the senior members of Congress. This power translates to the ability to effect regulatory change, improve government operations, and expose wrong-doers publicly. These representatives have the resources and connections to exercise tremendous influence upon investigations and their consequences. The author’s conclusion is that thorough research of investigations can better our decision making, the investigatory process, and the separation of powers in government.

I agree with the author when it comes to analyzing investigations and their conductors. One need not look very far before finding an example of a politician who has vested interests and resides on such a committee. An example would be the previously mentioned John Dingell, long-time chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Commitee. Three of his top four campaign contributions during the year of 2006 were General Motors, Ford Motor Co., and DaimlerChrysler (Federal Election Commission, 2007). Some of his political adversaries suggested he had a conflict of interest when the bailout recipients included his wife, a more than thirty-year employee of General Motors and former lobbyist. Over time, Dingell pushed for over 5 bailouts for General Motors, records show (Kindy & O’Harrow, 2010).

For reasons of conflict-of-interest and excessive power, I also believe it is important that we thoroughly examine investigations and their key decision makers. Investigations are a powerful source of legislation and precedent in regulatory change, so it should follow that we critically examine that process and strive to balance it. I think on the whole we benefit greatly from the appointment of these committees and subcommittees, but that we need regulation and oversight even into this process. Checks and balances must extend to every level of government to properly extinguish corruption.

This paper copyright of


1.Reinhardt, G. Y. (2008). An “i” on congress: The process and products of congressional investigation. Cambridge Journals41(03), 666-669. doi: 10.1017/S1049096508340931

2.Crewdson, J. (1991, September 22). France rethinks deal of aids test. Chicago Tribune, Retrieved from

3.U.S. Congress. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Government Affairs. 2001. Role of U.S. Correspondent Banking in International Money Laundering. 107th Cong., 1st Sess. Retrieved from:

4.U.S. Congress. Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security Government Affairs. 2006. Tax Haven Abuses: The Enablers, the Tools and Secrecy. 109th Cong., 2d Sess.

5.Federal Election Commission. (2007).Top 20 contributors. Retrieved from

6.Kindy, K. & O’Harrow, R. (2010, January 11). Dingells and gm illustrate limits of congressional conflict-of-interest rules.Washington Post, Retrieved from

Darfur Sudan – Genocide

Amidst all the devastation in Darfur, Sudan, one seemingly trite facet of the issue has repeatedly drawn debate and polarized critics: semantics. In particular, the word ‘genocide’ has caused much grief and stutter-stepping on the part of governments, especially those afraid to use the word. Due to legal considerations and an increasingly complicated geopolitical atmosphere, genocide has become a problematic word. As a result, one school of thought defines the conflict in Darfur as genocide, and another refuses to acknowledge that genocide is what is actually taking place.

The current conflict in Darfur began in 2003, eclipsed by the war in Iraq. A decade previous, the Clinton administration had all but ignored a Rwandan crisis and purposely avoided the word ‘genocide’ in its description of current events, as noted by a declassified security brief. That intention stemmed from a desire to not involve the country in armed conflict – a concern heightened by the language of a certain treaty that mandated intervention in case of genocide. Unfortunately, that inaction seems to have set a precedent for the United States on such issues, as relations between USA and Sudan have become riddled by economic, ethical, and political conflicts of interest.

Though genocide was outlined as a crime in 1946 under international law, no legal definition existed until 1948 when the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG) formed. At that point, genocide was defined to consist of one of several acts: killing, seriously injuring, or deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring physical destruction in whole or in part to a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. Additionally, imposing birth prevention measures or forcibly transferring children from one group to another was defined as genocide.

The most powerful, developed countries in the world held off from signing the treaty for years. The oft-designated sole remaining superpower in the world waited until 1988. Though even that did not stand. Today, the United States is in the same boat as Israel and Sudan, having unsigned a key provision of the CPPCG that effectively exculpates any legal liability. This hesitation and opposition to the treaty’s provisions, much like the reticence to employ the word genocide, has stymied the efforts of activists for years. On all sides of the issue, people strive to make their voice heard and do their best to describe the calamity taking place. At the same time, various entities provide conflicting and sometimes diametrically opposite points of view, leaving a confusing and turgid landscape to sort out.

While there is no shortage of figures and estimates given as to the number of displaced persons, fatalities, and so on, the disparity between them is often alarming and troublesome. On one end of the spectrum, estimates of displaced peoples and total casualties veer into the hundreds of thousands and even millions. On the other end, the government of Sudan offers a trifle amount not above ten thousand. Granted, margins of error are present and different scopes factor in, but there is clear subterfuge among Sudanes officials.

Therein lies one of the centerpieces of this debate: the scale of warfare is not readily quantifiable. Assessing the number of internally displaced people is not an easy task. Yet, despite the lack of idealistic accuracy concerning statistics, there is ample evidence that specific peoples are being targeted and specific crimes are being committed against them: namely crimes that are outlined in the legal definition of genocide as put forth by the CPPCG. However, the situation’s sufficiency to meet the terms outlined by the resolution hinge on proving intent, as with common murder.

One reporter who spent the month of June this year in Nuba stressed the fact that this was not an ethnic or religious genocide, but one against the minority group of South Kordofans, who in large part contributed to the recent secession of South Sudan. In this reporter’s words, the appointment of a man with outstanding indictments from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for war crimes – Ahmed Haroun – was tantamount to a statement of malicious intent. Falsified election results seemed to be the last straw for rebels in the area, and violence has broken anew.

There is much evidence that stands in support of the argument to categorize the conflict in Darfur as genocide. The Janjaweed for example, a loosely-organized Arab militia, had been operating at the behest of Sudanese officials while systematically destroying both the lives and livelihood of African tribes perceived to harbor the potential for insurgents. The victims – primarily the Fur, Massaleit, and Zaghawa – have suffered tremendous losses that did not end at death or rape, with widespread accounts of families being forced to witness such acts of cruelty against their brethren. Additionally, leaked intelligence from the United Nations (UN) confirms the fact that the Sudan Armed Forces are purposely targeting those of Nuban descent, in addition to the dark-skinned people of South Kordofan.

In fact, Al-Bashir has made it clear that his interests lie in furthering Islam and Arabic ideologies. Darfur is not the only region in which he is charged with having committed genocide. The UN confirmed that by mid-summer, half of the state’s districts were embroiled in conflict and thousands of people were evacuating their villages due to bombings, particularly in the foothills of central Sudan: the Nuba Mountains. There, traditional leaders – sheikh – were being executed as other villagers were forced to disperse into the surrounding mountains. Tragically, this appears to be the second coming of genocide for Nuba, which was ground zero for much of the Second Sudanese Civil War.

South Sudan’s recent independence is the result of years and years of civil war. Yet however overdue, it only places more strain on other provinces in Sudan. Its liberation has likely incited others to consider their chances, simultaneously prompting the government to take preemptive measures. Eager to quell such rebellion, Al-Bashir has ramped up his attacks and coordinated a resurgence that has featured indiscriminate bombings and mass burials.

Now that renewed violence is propagating dispersion, people that have already been displaced are facing the same fate all over again. This year alone, some 70,000 Darfurians have been displaced by aerial bombardments – that figure not including other provinces in peril. Blue Nile has declared a state of emergency since September, but regions like South Kordofan and Abyei have also been plunged in the crossfire. To make matters worse, desertification, lack of water, and a severely compromised harvest season have aligned to spell doom for many refugees.

The worst of the warfare has resulted in lasting damage inflicted to water supplies, agricultural resources, and land itself. Pursuant to the definition outlined by the ICC, this assault on infrastructure and resources clearly amounts to the calculated physical destruction of a targeted people – whether it is total or not is inconsequential since the legal clause outlining this offense contains the words “in whole or in part.” Further reading illuminates the fact that signatories of the CPPCG are required to take preventive measures as soon as there is a “serious risk” of genocide.

As on-the-ground sources confirm, the heavy amounts of violence experienced a lull years ago when a peace resolution was met in 2005. However, from then until now refugees were perpetually suffering from displacement and disease-ridden camps where the potential for waterborne diseases sky-rocketed. This summer, matters again took a turn for the worse.

The opposition to the usage of genocide has taken more than one conflicting stance in its attempt to avoid the term. In the Clinton days, the excuse was that using “genocide” would cause us to have to take serious action, placing us in a position where our hand was forced more or less. Fast forward to the Bush administration, where almost the opposite was true: usage of the word genocide was predicted to spur others into action, but when Colin Powell alone uttered the word, he found only resistance among political contemporaries. Both administration’s vacillation on the issue illuminates a clear concern for the consequences of uttering genocide, in spite of their ability to commit to ratifying the CPPCG.

Critics of the genocide categorization are quick to dismiss the severity and scale of the situation. One Sudanese official likened the events to disagreements between herders, shepherds, and  farmers –  downplaying the violence and attributing it to land disputes. Similarities can be found among such opponents of the word genocide: statistical marginalization, insertion of economic considerations, and debate of the definition of genocide. A recurring theme is the tendency to attribute genocide as all or nothing: it is only genocide if an entire people or group is in the line of fire.

An unusual amount of reporters – whether caught in the confusion or ambivalent – began utilizing such euphemisms as ethnic cleansing to describe the conflicts. Of course, the language differs, but the reality persists and inaction continues. Further, the United Nation’s own commission on the matter concluded that the crimes against humanity in Darfur may be “no less serious or heinous than genocide.” So while the world tiptoes around terminology, Darfur and others suffer from displacement, rape, abduction, and summary executions that unfold in lieu of any formidable defense.

Misinformation remains strong among the regime, and Sudanese press is quick to place the blame on religious zionists and western powers who are allegedly trying to divide the resources of the country for their own ends. The sheer amount of oil in the southern region of Sudan has amassed untold pressures and agendas, many of which factored into the inevitable zoning and territorial disputes, never-mind the recognition of the conflict as genocide globally.

Unfortunately, the damage is very clear once all veils have been lifted. For those in denial, several countries have passed resolutions that make it illegal to deny the Holocaust ever happened, yet there will be no such plans for legislation related to belittling the problems in Darfur. The rest of the world will have to strive to illuminate the truth of the matter in the face of those who would rather use euphemisms, distractions, and outright lies to convince those lucky enough not to be involved of what actually happened.

Those who would argue against the existence of genocide in Darfur, whether past or present, are downplaying a humanitarian crisis that has spiraled out of control. It is unclear why, when soft words and euphemisms contribute to apathy and avoidance of the situation. In the same way the Turkish government has methodically pioneered methods to deny and marginalize the Armenian genocide, Sudan and its president, Omar Al-Bashir, appear to be following in the footsteps of propagandists before them. The debate over genocide, its definition, and its perpetrators may be perpetual, but the utter inertia inspired by those issues ought not have consequences for the innocent.



1.Hamilton, R. (2011). Crisis in sudan: allegations of ethnic cleansing in the nuba mountains. The New York Times, Retrieved from

2.Human Rights Watch. (2011, June). Darfur in the shadows: the sudanese government’s ongoing attacks on civilians and human rights. Retrieved from

3.Mountain, T. (2011). A lucid, powerful look at the darfur genocide. Foreign Policy Journal, Retrieved from

4.Reeves, E. (2005). Genocide in darfur – how the horror began. Sudan Tribune, Retrieved from,11445

5.United Nations, (2005). Report of the international commission of inquiry on darfur to the united nations secretary-general. Retrieved from 

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