Skip to content
Guest Thinkers

Nice State Of The Union, Shame About The ‘Clean Coal’

On the extremely cute end of the cuteness spectrum, in Wednesday’s State of the Union Address, was the moment when Obama interrupted his rolling-up-the-sleeves-on-healthcare moment, looked up from his podium to where Michelle was sitting, called the nation’s attention to his wife’s campaign to end childhood obesity, smiled at her stoic response, and said “she gets embarrassed.” On the extremely not cute end of the cuteness spectrum was the moment when Obama yet again snuck ‘clean coal’ onto the list of clean energy technologies we need to build up in the states this year:

“But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives.  And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country.  (Applause.)  It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.  (Applause.)  It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies.  (Applause.)  And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.  (Applause.)”

Applause for nuclear, biofuels, offshore drilling, and clean coal?  To borrow the big man’s words, if I may, “let’s clear a few things up”:

Clean coal is not clean. There is nothing clean about coal of any kind, at all. Coal ‘cleaning’ methods like carbon capture and storage – capturing greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants and storing them underground to keep them out of the atmosphere – are better than nothing, and could help curb climate change, but they will never make coal clean. The coal industry, regardless of how expertly its greenhouse gas emissions are boxed up and stored away, will always destroy mountains in the Southeast (and the ecosystems they house), while continuing to release the lion’s share of the mercury currently poisoning our oceans, our fish stocks, and our bodies.

Grist’s Umbra Fisk asked it best: “Should we spend money and time researching and developing technology to make coal less awful? Or is this a stupid misdirection of human capital, better spent on solar, wind, hydro, ocean power, and conservation?”

How long will we put off solving the big problems hampering our country’s economic and social development, Obama asked the nation on Wednesday. How long, indeed. If climate change and the destruction of ecosystems is a gaping wound, ‘clean’ coal technologies are mere Band-Aids.


Up Next