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The Financial Times Gets Clear on Coal

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I was happy to see that the Financial Times made benefit from Susty's transcript of the recent conference call about the Coen Brothers' faux commercial for clean coal:

The problem with the debate is that neither side is clear about what they mean when they say "clean coal". (Although a conference call from Reality Coalition explaining the ad does go a little way into the details.)

In our view, however, the post is on a quest for too much information.

The titular task of the post "Clean coal" confusion cleared up gets accomplished coming to this triple-bottom-line of a concluding paragraph:

The biggest problem, still, is the cost. Coal-fired power stations with carbon capture and storage have been estimated as costing about twice as much as conventional coal plants, and the electricity as costing 50-100 per cent more. Until governments make it clear that they are prepared to pay those prices, clean coal will remain a possibility, but not a reality.

As information-rich and measured the Ed Crooks piece is, its suggestion that the crux of the problem lies in neither side being "clear about what they mean when they say 'clean coal'" is to undertake the mountaintop removal of a molehill. Speaking generally, those in the environmental camp are perfectly articulate about what they mean when they speak of clean coal (although the messaging could still stand a few creative tweaks). By clean coal enviros bring the GHG carbon issue to the fore, followed by human health and habitat issues like acid rain, coal ash spills, mercury contamination of water bodies as well as the fish in them, mountain top removal effects and on and on. The devil here is in the topline issue with all comorbidities sublimated to it, it being the headliner global warming. On the other foot, the coal industry is perfectly clear about what they mean by clean coal: we surrender, but not without a fight , or rather not without continuing our long-fought war.

The clean coal frame constructed by coal marketeers and advanced by a fleet of lobbyists is doomed to go down as the coal industry's "Macaca moment." Destined to supplant the cough-and-kill cigarette business as the object of public health-related derision (and subsequently to become eclipsed by the mobile-phone industrial complex cum radiation we would speculate) coal as an enterprise has since the 13th century struggled to legitimate itself as as force of progress for human civilization. Similar "debates" that are essentially of a piece with the current one have been had time and again, leaving a long arc of coal use in England to provide us perspective with which to peer through the haze of discourse. From the EPA Journal:

At the turn of the century, cries to reduce the smoke faced a tough opponent. Coal was fueling the industrial revolution. To be against coal burning was to be against progress. "Progress" won out. Not until the 1950s, when a four-day fog in 1952 killed roughly 4,000 Londoners was any real reform passed. Parliament enacted the Clean Air Act in 1956, effectively reducing the burning coal. It was the beginning of serious air-pollution reform in England.

It's one thing to prestidigitate, to prevaricate, even to dissemble but when you leave the bounds of reality and call something clean which even a child knows is dirty, sooty, smoky is quite another. It's the shark-jump moment of McCarthy calling General MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area during WWII, a communist. You can tell me coal is cheap, you can tell me I have no other options, but you cannot tell me it's clean. John Wayne Gacy was best known as a birthday party clown before he became forever and finally branded with the epithet of serial killer. Akin to such analogies, our clean coal suspicions, disbelief, incredulity build until we say enough. We did just hear what we heard, we did just see caught on tape what we thought we saw. Rush Limbaugh wants POTUS to fail.

Like the interventionist wagons circled around an alcoholic Nancy Ford by her family members left feeling desperate, helpless, raging, despairing, hopeful, loving, envious -- flush with the richness of inner human experience which leaves no choice but to act, or put otherwise, no choice but to live -- the common sense of even the most dominant and powerful voices in our society can now be heard by turns tepidly, with political grace and with human fire to say simply we know the truth. We know the truth about coal. We've always known the truth and now is time, my dear ones, to chart a course correction which will at journey's end bring us to a place we both long to be.

via Susty

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