7 October 2012

You Do Know That There is No Such Thing As Clean Coal, Right?

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Mountain top coal removal in Hazard County Kentucky. Image courtesy "Mountain Top Removal Road Show".

You cannot watch cable news for long without seeing a commercial by the coal industry touting clean coal, but clean coal is nothing more than an advertising slogan. To capture the CO2, and other dirty by products that result from burning coal, can theoretically be done but so far no one has figured out how to safely do it.  Furthermore, the process of burning it cleanly (then storing the CO2) nearly doubles the cost! Not to mention the environmental damage (nothing short of severe) from the mountain top removal to get the coal in the first place.

This cute little slogan sure worked well because I hear candidates from both parties using it frequently as the election approaches. PBS Front Line did a good piece on this and you can read a transcript here. Kevin Grandia ( who has written extensively on energy issues) called the term “clean coal” offensive and quotes author Jeff Goodall-

“Clean coal” is not an actual invention, a physical thing — it is an advertising slogan. Like “fat-free donuts” or “interest-free loans.

So just to be clear: The scientific truth says coal is by far the dirtiest fuel we have and produces more CO2 than any other. So far NO ONE has figured out a way to cheaply burn it in a safe way. You almost have to feel sorry for the coal executives, because it is a classic case of refusing to see the end of their industry. Upton Sinclair (THE JUNGLE) said that it’s almost impossible for someone to believe anything, when their paycheck depends on it not being so.

I wonder why reporters let candidates for office get away with these claims. perhaps they’ve been convinced by that cute little advertising slogan as well. Rhetoric is a very powerful tool. If you want to understand how powerful, read Language Intelligence by Joe Romm.