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Friday, March 07, 2008

Obama and Clinton Both Talking Up "Clean" Coal in Primary States

Both Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton have solid energy plans that, if implemented, would take America into a cleaner energy future. On energy and climate, like on so many other issues, both remaining Democratic contenders for the White House followed John Edwards' early example and developed bold clean energy and climate change plans late last year.

As David Roberts of Grist says, "Both would substantially cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost clean energy; both pitch sustainability as an issue of shared sacrifice and economic opportunity; both have an impressive grasp of the policy details."

In fact, when it comes to the two candidates' energy and climate plans, there's about as much distance between them as their current neck-and-neck delegate counts.

Obama and Clinton have something else in common we should all be taking note of: they've both been talking up so-called "clean" coal on the campaign trail, especially in coal-friendly primary states like Ohio and Wyoming.

Obama earned some well-deserved heat last summer for his seemingly friendly stance towards coal-to-liquids (CTL) synthetic fuel production. While CTL might help displace oil, the synthetic fuel results in up to twice as much greenhouse gas emissions as conventional gasoline. Obama has since "clarified" his position on CTL, saying he'll only support new plants if they decrease both oil use and GHG emissions (a tall order for this dirty fuel!).

Clinton has been pretty silent on CTL, but both candidates energy plans and stump speeches tout the potential of "clean" (aka slightly-less-deadly) coal technologies.

In coal-lovin' Ohio last week, Obama had this to say:

"Clean-coal technology should be part of [the] mix... We are the Saudi Arabia of coal."

And Clinton is just as bad. Her husband was out today touting "clean" coal to crowds in Wyoming (set to caucus on Saturday). From the Denver Post:

"At the University of Wyoming in Laramie, thousands of people braved icy winds and waited in long lines outside a campus arena to hear the former president speak. He answered with a speech that held them rapt even as he ranged from his wife's plans for universal health care to her plans for creating a technology that could burn Wyoming coal without generating greenhouse gases."

So what's wrong with a coal technology that lets us burn our most abundant domestic fossil fuel resource "without generating greenhouse gases." To answer that, I'll let you ask the fine citizens of West Virginia, or refer you to this video:

The short answer though, is that as long as you need dig coal out of the ground, it'll never be clean - particularly while coal companies employ the extremely destructive process of mountain-top removal strip mining to supply those "clean" coal plants with fuel.

Slightly-less-deadly, sure, but "clean?" Don't try to shovel me that!

As Jeff Biggers, the author of The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture and Enlightenment to America, writes: "Clean coal: Never was there an oxymoron more insidious, or more dangerous to our public health."

Barak Obama has at least spoken publicly against mountaintop removal and strip-mining in both DC and Kentucky.

"We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of our dependence on fossil fuels," Obama said at a campaign stop in Lexington Kentucky, sparking loud applause.

As of yet, the Clinton campaign has been silent on the practice of mountain top removal or strip mining.

Any energy plan that pledges to clean up coal must address both the combustion and extraction of the dirty fuel.

I sincerely hope that a President Obama will fight to end the practice of mountain top removal, which devastates both the environment and the lives of Appalachia. I also hope that Clinton's silence on the matter is merely oversight.

Neither candidate has yet convinced me that they their "clean" energy plans will not push an expansion of coal-fired power plants under the guise of "clean" coal that will accelerate mountain top coal mining and other strip mining and lead to expanded environmental and human devastation.

My question is this: what exactly do Obama and Clinton mean when they say "clean" coal? If this is what they have in mind (or what they are ignoring), then they can take their "clean" coal and shovel it!

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