The Clean Coal Bait and Switch

David Roberts, an environmental writer for, has written a great critique of the coal industry's "clean coal" campaign, pointing out that "it's an obvious scam -- easily exposed, easily debunked. Just because it's obvious, though, doesn't mean the media won't fall for it. Indeed, the entire 'clean coal' propaganda push is premised on the media's gullibility." Roberts notes, as have others, including a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), that "the companies funding 'clean coal' PR aren't spending much on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research." They have therefore made no progress in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that make coal a potent cause of global warming. The concept of "clean coal" was invented to answer concerns about global warming, and its advocates play a rhetorical game of bait-and-switch on precisely this topic. When pressed about how coal can be clean, Roberts observes, "they revert to the other definition of 'clean' -- the notion that coal plants have reduced their emissions of traditional air pollutants like particulates and mercury (as opposed to greenhouse gases)."

To see how this flimflam works on a gullible media, Roberts points to the example of Politico's Erica Lovley, whom he dubs "2008's presumptive frontrunner for Most Gullible Journalist." (Perhaps we'll have to add that category to next year's Falsies Awards.) He provides an example showing how Lovley allowed a coal industry spokesman to use the bait-and-switch trick to "dispute" CAP's report by changing the subject rather than actually addressing the facts.

I wrote recently about another breathtakingly cynical -- and ultimately ineffective -- coal industry PR stunt, the animated "clean coal carolers" that sang Christmas songs rewritten with pro-coal lyrics. I managed to preserve a YouTube video of one of those songs, "Frosty the Coalman," but the backlash against the songs on the blogosphere was so severe that the industry's front group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), yanked the whole campaign off their website after only three days. The clean coal carolers appeared and disappeared so quickly that I didn't get around to copying the other tunes before they were all gone. Fortunately, environmental blogger Lloyd Alter made YouTubes of some of the others, so future generations dealing with famine, mass extinctions and extreme weather events can brighten their mood by watching animated anthracite perform renditions of "Deck the Halls,"Clean Coal Night" (sung to the tune of "Silent Night"), and "O Technology" (sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree"). In this case, at least, the blogosphere showed that it had a better BS detector than the mainstream media. With the exception of a commentary by Rachel Maddow, the clean coal carolers went largely unmentioned and uncritized by the mainstream media until after the industry had already pulled the plug on its failed campaign. But the "clean coal" campaign is far from over, and it is counting on finding more stenographers posing as reporters to help transmit its propaganda.


We can't stand anymore of the prosperity in Appalachia Our environment and health care are third world standards in Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.

Just look at the coal-ash spill last week in East Tennessee! And all the damage it has done. Whey can't this country concentrate on SOLAR and other really clean alternatives. . . . . We are allowing our once beautiful Earth to become un-livable!!!

OK, so the marketing is less than brilliant. What proof do you have that GE's emissions reducing technology will not work? Or are you just assuming? "Greenhouse gases" simply mean carbon dioxide. Anything you burn and anything that breathes makes it. Even if you went back to HORSES and MULES you'd still be producing this gas (along with lots of methane). There are very few ways to get heat, light and mechanical energy other than burning something, and I doubt you'll like any of them. Solar energy depends directly on surface area. In other words, you have to cover up huge amounts of landscape to obtain useful amounts of solar power directly. This will obviously kill plants and DECREASE the conversion of carbon dioxide to oxygen. Also, reflecting and absorbing sunlight causes climate change--it's been shown that the concrete surfaces of large cities actually alter weather patterns, for example. The only way to avoid these problems is to build huge solar collectors in space, but this is only science fiction for now. Wind energy also depends directly on surface area, except in this case the technology only blocks a portion of the land, and instead kills birds and wildlife. Perhaps building wind farms on the polar ice caps might be a solution, though I don't see anybody rushing out to try it. Hydropower is reasonably clean although it tends to interfere with fish migration. It doesn't even matter though because practically every river that can be dammed has been already. Geothermal power is only practical in a very few locations where the earth's crust is thin enough, and it isn't especially safe to live around volcanoes and geysers. Do we even know whether taking too much heat from beneath the earth's surface might have unwanted side effects? Now here's the part I'm certain you don't want to hear. The least potentially hazardous way to create energy for heat, light and transportation is nuclear. It has been decades since the last time there were any noteworthy problems with a nuclear power facility, and current techology is far safer still. Countries like France are doing very well with this source of energy. It produces NO greenhouse gases and most of the fuel gets recycled. Even the warm water produced by older plants could be mitigated with proper planning. Before you start complaining about what to do with the radioactive materials, think about where they came from in the first place. That's right--they're in the ground!

iqsmith says; "The least potentially hazardous way to create energy for heat, light and transportation is nuclear. It has been decades since the last time there were any noteworthy problems with a nuclear power facility, and current techology is far safer still. Countries like France are doing very well with this source of energy. It produces NO greenhouse gases and most of the fuel gets recycled." Wish it were so but it's not! For me, the known financial and/or waste issues of nuclear fission plants is enough to say -- NO Thanks! However, when you consider Dr. Caldicott's points on the nuclear fuel cycle and its accompanied impacts of fossil fuel use and global climate change its the final nail in the coffin as far as I am concerned! Worldview with Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio: ‘The Nuclear Landscape’ – Dr. Helen Caldicott Friday, October 12, 2007 [ ] [ ] (Download = 21.2MB) “We discuss nuclear power, nuclear weapons and their role in the upcoming presidential elections with Dr. Helen Caldicott, a longtime anti-nuclear campaigner and co-founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.” – Jerome McDonnell Quotes of Dr. Helen Caldicott starting at: 00:26:22 in the interview… “Ok, so got 103 reactors in America, all of which are getting old and all of which need to be replaced. They produce 20% of the electricity you currently use. If you all stop using your clothes dryers and turned off all your electrical instruments at night you’d probably save 20% of the electricity. In fact, you can save 28% of the electricity you currently use. So you don’t need nuclear power.” (snip…) “Nuclear power itself produces global warming, a large degree of Carbon dioxide because you have to mine millions of tons of Uranium. And you have to mill it and you have to enrich it. Huge amounts of fossil fuel are used. At the moment a nuclear power plant produces 30% the CO2 as a similar sized gas fired plant, but in ten or twenty years as Uranium ore declines in concentration, in the world, a nuclear power plant will produce the same amount of CO2 as a fossil fuel plant. But, you know you may as well have a fossil fuel plant because you won’t produce radioactive waste -- A. B. To have any effect on global warming, with the nuclear industry’s data, which is inaccurate, you’d have to build a nuclear power plant every week for the next thirty years, impossible… C. Nuclear power plants take 10 to 15 years to build. So you are not going to make any impact at all because global warming is upon us now. And we have to stop burning coal – NOW! And we have to stop burning oil – NOW! The Arctic is melting. The Amazon is ablaze. Australia is in the middle of a huge drought we can hardly grow food anymore. What on Earth do we think we are doing driving SUVs everywhere? Where’s the sense of urgency that a doctor has when their patient is in the intensive care unit? We are all now physicians to a planet that is in the intensive care unit. Yet its life and business as normal. Its Nero fiddling while Rome burns.” (Continues…) See Also: ‘Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy’ [ ] [ ] “The overarching finding of this study is that a zero-CO2 U.S. economy can be achieved within the next thirty to fifty years without the use of nuclear power and without acquiring carbon credits from other countries. In other words, actual physical emissions of CO2 from the energy sector can be eliminated with technologies that are now available or foreseeable. This can be done at reasonable cost while creating a much more secure energy supply than at present. Net U.S. oil imports can be eliminated in about 25 years. All three insecurities – severe climate disruption, oil supply and price insecurity, and nuclear proliferation via commercial nuclear energy – will thereby be addressed. In addition, there will be large ancillary health benefits from the elimination of most regional and local air pollution, such as high ozone and particulate levels in cities, which is due to fossil fuel combustion.” Helen Caldicott, MD - Books [ ] ‘NUCLEAR POWER IS NOT THE ANSWER’ Publisher: The New Press (2006); ISBN: 978-1-59558-067-2 Melbourne University Press (2006): ISBN 0522 85251 3 “In a world torn apart by wars over oil, many politicians are increasingly looking for alternative sources of energy - and their leading choice is often nuclear. Among the myths that have been spread over the years about nuclear-powered electricity are that it does not cause global warming or pollution (i.e., that it is "clean and green"), that it is inexpensive, and that it is safe. But the facts belie the barrage of nuclear industry propaganda: Nuclear power contributes to global warming; The real costs of nuclear power are prohibitive (and taxpayers pick up most of them); There’s not enough uranium in the world to sustain long-term nuclear power; Potential for a catastrophic accident or terrorist attack far outweighs any benefits.”