You may have heard about the recent kerfluffle surrounding the Obama campaign's late addition of "clean coal" to the list of energy priorities listed on its website. This has me wondering why so many Dirty Energy politicians are so excited about "clean coal."
The premise behind "clean coal" is presumably that coal is inherently dirty, but that if you do enough to deal with all that filth, you can make it clean. Many would argue that coal can never be clean. But, watching the polluter posse's votes in congress and listening to their rhetoric on the campaign trail, you'd think that coal isn't even dirty.
Here is just a selection of the recent times when Members of Congress had the chance to go on the record in support of cleaning up coal:
• In April 2011, an amendment in the Senate to strip EPA of its ability to reduce the carbon pollution received 50 votes. Since coal fired power plants are a large source of carbon pollution, this was presumed to be part of EPA's "War on Coal." The House version of the bill had passed in a vote of 255 to 172.
• In October, the House voted on and passed a bill that would prohibit the EPA from setting strict rules on how to dispose of toxic coal ash, which is filled with arsenic, lead and mercury. It passed with 267 votes. The Senate companion already has 13 cosponsors. Pro-coal members are now trying to tuck a version of this bill into the transportation bill, since it is unlikely to be signed into law by President Obama.
• In November, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul offered a resolution that would have stopped lifesaving new protections to reduce smog and soot pollution. It garnered 41 votes and fell short of passing.
• And now, Senator Jim Inhofe has filed a new resolution to void long-overdue limits on mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants.
There doesn't seem to be nearly enough support for "clean coal" when I look at this record. Instead, I see politicians who want to ensure that coal never has to get cleaner. From mercury that damages the brains of unborn children to the devastation of mountaintop removal mining to nasty spills of coal waste, some clean coal advocates seem almost eager to look the other way.
Surely some of these clean coal proponents will claim that the coal should be cleaned up, but that coal companies and power plants just need more time to do it. Don't be fooled. The special resolutions being used to try to stop many of these pollution rules would stop EPA from ever issuing a similar rule again. That likely means that if Senator Inhofe gets his way, mercury at these power plants would spew forth into our families and our environment, without limits, forever.
Montana Senate candidate Denny Rehberg says he wants to make clean coal "safer and more efficient." Yet, he's supported each of the efforts above. What does clean coal mean to him?
Pennsylvania Senate candidate Tom Smith is bankrolling his own candidacy with funds he earned as an executive in the coal industry. He sees clean coal as a tremendous opportunity. Do you think he'll support any of the efforts to actually make coal cleaner?
It's time to stop the greenwashing. Rebranding dirty old coal as "clean coal" doesn't magically make the filth disappear. Next time you hear a candidate propound the virtues of clean coal, I urge you to ask whether they see "clean coal" as a real aspiration for improving public health and the environment or just the vessel of another empty promise.