Grill Hot Dogs Without Guilt, Sez Federal Researcher

Tris West wants you to shed your environmental angst when you fire up the grill this weekend. The agronomist claims that burning charcoal is actually good for trees.

The researcher’s work at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is featured in a podcast that is oddly reminiscent of the agit-prop that got Armstrong Williams and the Department of Education into hot water in 2005.

“Charcoal is made from wood,” West says. “It is a renewable energy source, which means once that CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, forests are then regrown wherever they were cut down and they take up CO2 from the atmosphere. There’s a carbon cycle. We release it and then it’s taken back up by the trees.”

West says deciding between grilling with gas or charcoal can pose a dilemma.

“There is going to be twice as much carbon released from your charcoal grill as there is from your propane grill,” West says. “When we consider the total carbon cycle and the charcoal as a renewable energy source because it’s from wood, the story is completely flipped and you have more emissions from natural gas because emissions from charcoal are net zero.”

That advice may sound like a good idea for propping up the charcoal industry and the manufacturers of those flimsy metal grills but maybe not so good for air quality.

Environmental Colorado released a report in April that found that the state’s carbon pollution increased 38 percent between 1990 and 2004.

“Colorado’s jump in carbon pollution is the fifth highest in the country,” said Environment Colorado Executive Director Matt Baker. “Given the implications of global warming for our state, we should be leading the country in decreasing carbon pollution- not increasing it.”

Colorado also ranked fifth in the nation for overall percentage increase of carbon pollution from the transportation sector, which accounts for more than 30% of total carbon pollution in Colorado.

“This report is a wake-up call to cut pollution levels now before it is too late. Colorado’s first step is to set hard goals for cutting carbon pollution overall, our second step is to cut carbon pollution from cars,” continued Baker. “Colorado is responsible for more carbon pollution than 175 entire nations.”

The Lung Association of Colorado also noted that the state exceeded maximum ground ozone levels on 22 days in June 2006. The pollutant is typically more prevalent in the summer months when temperatures are consistently higher and winds are calm. July is historically the worst month for ozone.

Despite the DoE’s encouragment, guilt-free grilling may be out the window.

The state Regional Air Quality Council’s “Ozone Aware” campaign singles out charcoal grills as one of the biggest offenders of creating ground level ozone.

And surely as a tree grows in Brooklyn, the media is eating this up without any analysis. In one news account, West admitted that “The carbon released from Independence Day barbecuing amounts to burning some 900,000 trees.” Yet, West is further quoted saying that he’ll be charcoal grilling this summer anyways.

Somewhere George Forman is clutching his signature electric grill and smiling.