01/14/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Joe the Deacon and the Church of Clean Coal Carolers: How to Faith-wash Green-washing

While the Lame Duck Express remains stalled at the intersection of Hubris, Greed, and Religion as the country spirals into a near Depression, someone else has decided to honk his horn at this ideological crossroad. Forget the ghost-written pontifications of McCain-made-me-feel-"dirty"-Joe-the-Plumber, meet Joe the Deacon. That's Joe Lucas, the Vice President of Communications at the ACCCE, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy. Thanks to Rawstory's breaking of the ACCCE's audacious green-washing campaign to give lumps of coal a new, positive spin during the holiday season, a groundswell of heated, blogospheric pressure ignited the "Coal Carolers" into the incendiary public relations fiasco that it has become, eventually reaching tag cloud density to elevate to the main stream media's stratosphere on MSNBC's recent Rachel Maddow Show.

In the face of the black plume of anti-green-washing blow-back, the ACCCE hit the delete button on the ill-conceived coal caroling flash campaign and sent them home for the holidays. And where contrition and humility would have been a virtue in response to this widespread public backlash, Joe Lucas, the Vice Deacon of Communications at the ACCCE, instead tried to turn the lazy-susan on the power dynamic by ironically introducing religion into his half-hearted plea to debate our energy future. For someone earnestly desiring to discuss the importance of coal at the US energy policy table at these critical times, the "Coal Carolers" suggest a more subversive desire to undermine the dialogue as seen in "Frosty the Coalman" below.

As reported at ThinkProgress, Joe the Deacon, had this to say about replacing baby Jesus with a lump of Christmas coal in Silent Night: "I'll put my years as a Sunday school teacher, church deacon and church musician up against just about anybody else when it comes to understanding hymnology and respect for religious traditions." Upon reading Joe's words, my curiosity about this Green-wash story gave way to an instant revulsion. For the ACCCE to release the "Coal Carolers" during Bill O'Rielly's annual beating of the War on Christmas drums against secularization, I couldn't help but feel a new layer of insidious baiting intent in this Green-wash campaign. Anyone in charge of communications for an organization during the holidays has a heightened awareness to offending religious sensitivities, so the mere inclusion of Silent Night as a song is not an oversight but an insight into a new low in PR. While I am a huge proponent of parody in artistic applications, Joe and his PR crew have intentionally abused the notion of parody by trying to sell their disingenuous industry narrative during a strained holiday context characterized by unresolved issues around religious tolerance.

The real rub comes not just from the nefarious motivations to introduce religion as a subtext into the ACCCE's "clean coal" marketing campaign, but for Joe as an industry spokesperson to publicly defend these actions by using religion in his private life. Not unlike the ACCCE's attempts to hide behind animated caroling coals to make their case, using religion as a shield to deflect criticism instead of serving as a spiritual compass puts faith-wash on top of green-wash. Attempting to conflate religious virtuosity as a deacon with his actions as an unapologetic, green-washer smacks of the exhausting political demagoguery that this Administration has employed repeatedly in election cycles.

Now that religion has been publicly and privately inserted into this "energy debate" (like an unwanted 11th-hour Bush executive order allowing mountain-top mining), this raises the question as to which church has tenets that could reconcile promoting clean coal so facetiously with a life of spiritual devotion (please see Pete Altman's excellent post on Joe Lucas and the ACCCE)? Why of course it's the Church of Clean Coal, aka The Church of Latter Day Energy Solutions! And if Joe the Deacon is looking for a way out of this hole that he keeps on digging deeper with each new type of PR-wash, I'd recommend that he keep on mining the religion PR-vein and look to another Joe for divine inspiration: the Joe lurking under the recent Prop. 8 headlines, a certain Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church. Taking his lead, if Joe the Deacon digs just deep enough, he might unearth the Anthracite Clean Coal equivalent of the Book of Mormon necessary to green-wash the masses into why the ACCCE's version of clean coal is part of a sustainable energy future that could justify unleashing even more environmental havoc, occupational hazards, and public health risks. In a true spirit of goodwill, one last bit of advice for Joe the Deacon: if you do end up founding your own Zion for a dedicated following of Clean Coal Carolers, don't do it on the top of a coal-rich mountain in the Appalachians.

Here's a youtube archive of one of the animated flash cards that you can no longer create on the America' s Power website; you'll have to find another way to send your lump of coal to the ACCCE this year.