What’s the Truth about ‘Clean’ Coal?

Parham doubts the claims made by "clean coal" proponents, like the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity. (www.americaspower.org)
A 60-second TV commercial by America’s Power tells us that “clean” coal is about belief. Faith in American energy resources, technology and ingenuity is what is needed for us to have “clean” coal, which will reduce greenhouse gases.

Sponsored by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the coal industry’s “I Believe” commercial says: “I believe in the future … I believe in protecting the environment. I believe in energy independence … I believe we can use American energy resources. I believe we can limit greenhouse gases … I believe in technology … I believe we will do this … With new technologies, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep energy costs affordable … I believe. I believe in American ingenuity … Clean coal. America’s power.”

Climate change is “one of the most important issues of our time,” admits Steve Miller, president of ACCCE, in a video clip.

He says: “Our fundamental beliefs really haven’t changed. We have to protect the environment and provide reliable, affordable electricity for millions of Americans and secure America’s energy future. And we see technology as the key to accomplishing these goals. Electricity from coal … is a bridge to America’s energy future.”

On the front page of ACCCE’s Web site is a video clip of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama endorsing “clean” coal. One TV spot touts the coal industry’s faith in America’s technology and commitment “to clean.” Another one warns that we have to advance “new clean coal technologies” or “we may have to say goodbye to the American way of life.”

But should we believe the coal industry?

According to an industry spokesman, the coal lobby had a 2008 campaign budget from $45 million to $50 million, obviously designed to shape American public opinion to believe in “clean” coal.

The Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said the coal and electricity industry spent in the first nine months of 2008 more than $125 million to lobby Congress against efforts to reduce the pollution causing global warming.

CAP found that the ACCCE companies had a profit of $57 billion in 2007 and invested only $3.5 billion over a couple of years in research projects to capture and store carbon pollution.

Given the coal industry’s profits, its campaign and lobbying budgets, and the poverty of its investment in new technology to reduce carbon emissions, one must ask if ACCCE’s ads are credible. Is the industry telling the truth or scamming the public? Do the ads really create an illusion about the availability of “clean” coal as a way to oppose pro-environmental initiatives? Is the industry more about raw profits or the common good?

Another organization is challenging the “clean” coal claims. The Alliance for Climate Protection, chaired by Al Gore, has a project called “This Is Reality,” which has TV spots about “clean” coal.

One TV ad begins with an engineer saying, “Clean coal. Heard a lot about it. So let’s take a tour of the state-of-the-art clean coal facility.” He opens the facility door to a barren, windy landscape.

“And while burning coal is one of the leading causes of global warming, the remarkable clean coal technology you see here changes everything. Take a good long look. This is today’s clean coal technology,” he says in a desolate setting.

Another 30-second TV ad has a CEO saying, “At Coalergy, we view climate change as a very serious threat to our business. That’s why we’ve made it our primary goal to spend a large sum of money on an advertising effort to help bring out and complicate the truth about coal. The fact is that coal isn’t dirty … Don’t worry about climate change. Leave that up to us.”

So, what are the facts about “clean” coal?

A vice president for the coal industry’s lobbying group said, "With the current research being done, we think we can get the technology up and running within 10 to 15 years."

According to scientists, we don’t have 10 to 15 years to wait on “clean” coal technology and to reduce other causes of climate change.

Rajendra Pachauri, Nobel Prize winner and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said in 2007: “If there's no action before 2012, that's too late. What we do in the next two to three years will determine our future. This is the defining moment.”

Since coal-fired power plants supply some 50 percent of the nation’s electrical needs and are responsible for more than 27 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases, addressing coal is pivotal to dealing with climate change.

What is demanded from people of faith is doubt--doubt about claims of “clean” coal, doubt about the veracity of the coal industry’s environmental commitment.

“Clean” coal is more bogus belief than science. It’s more false faith than fact. It’s more a fabricated religious devotion than a commitment to reality. It’s more deceitful speculation about a future earth than a moral decision to protect the one we have.

More sharply, “clean coal is like healthy cigarettes,” as Gore put it.

If truth is foundational to the Christian claim, then telling the truth discloses Christian commitment. Cite Jesus’ commitment to truth: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free “(John 8:32).

We need to know the truth about “clean” coal if we are going to fend off misleading industry advertisements and free ourselves from dangers of climate change.

Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics. He was one of 20 Baptists who took a three-day training course sponsored by The Climate Project.

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Tags: Clean Coal, Climate Change, Environment, Global Warming, Robert Parham, Sustainability, TheGreenBible.org

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