THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire!

San Francisco -- At some point we should stop letting blatantly absurd claims and lies pass unnoticed just because "everyone knows that big oil and coal don't tell the truth." So I'm periodically going to blow the whistle.

Here are two recent examples of whoppers that should have generated massive anger and outrage by editorial writers and the media -- but somehow didn't.

Lie: Saudi Arabia Is the Big Victim of Climate Change

This may surprise you, but the Saudi government continues to insist that if oil-consuming countries kick their addiction to petroleum, then they will require global climate aid. The chief Saudi negotiator, Mohammad Al-Sabban, says that providing financial aid if the world stops consuming so much oil is a "make-or-break" provision:

"Assisting us as oil-exporting countries in achieving economic diversification is very crucial for us through foreign direct investments, technology transfer, insurance and funding."

Excuse me, funding? So if poor villagers in India opt to install rooftop solar panels to save money on the kerosene they currently use for light, then they should pay the Saudis? Last year, when soaring oil prices nearly bankrupted those same villagers, did anyone see the Saudis or the rest of the oil cartel offering to pay for their kerosene or to compensate the government of India for the bill it paid to keep the fuel costs reasonable?

Lie: Coal Is Already Clean

This whopper shows up in an ad from Peabody coal. The ad says it several ways, but begins with "The technologies that surround your life are fueled by clean coal."

Utter hogwash. First, the industry's definition of  "clean coal" is absurd -- any technology that's even a little better than what the industry used in 1990 counts. In the ad, Peabody boasts that emissions from coal plants have been reduced by one-third. If I spilled three gallons of garbage on your kitchen floor and then cleaned up one gallon, would you be satisfied that you now had a "clean kitchen"?

Then there's the matter of whether when coal-fired utilities clean up their emissions by this "one third" they really clean anything up at all. It turns out that when power companies use scrubbers to take coal pollution out of the air, many of them just dump that pollution into the drinking water.  So far the states have refused, for the most part, to set limits on this water pollution. Even when they do, an analysis by the New York Times showed that these limits are often violated, with only meaningless fines or no enforcement action at all: "Ninety percent of 313 coal-fired power plants that have violated the Clean Water Act since 2004 were not fined or otherwise sanctioned by federal or state regulators."

The Times went on to report that a  power plant near Hatfield Ferry, Pennsylvania, which dumps tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater into the Monongahela River, a drinking water source for 35,000 people, has violated the Clean Water Act 33 times since 2006: "For those violations, the company paid less than $26,000. During that same period, the plant's parent company earned $1.1 billion."

(If you want to see just how legal the coal plants near you are, the New York  Times has prepared a nifty interactive database that shows you how many times your power plant violated the Clean Water Act.) And then of course there are America's coal-fired clunkers, power plants built before the Clean Air and Water Acts were passed, some during the First World War. They have been largely exempted from having to clean up their pollution -- so even if they may show on the Times map as legal, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are safe or clean.

And don't even get me started on the issue of the pollution that results from mining coal, or the problems that stem from its mercury and carbon dioxide pollution. (Somehow, I think I'll have a chance to catch the coal industry in some serious fabrication around those issues in a future posting.)

It might be interesting to see if you can get your local newspaper's editorial board to start calling foul on this massive propaganda campaign by dirty-energy monopolies -- and if they don't do it this week, keep up your requests. There will, sadly, be lots of fresh material.