The U.S. coal industry is flailing. Utilities are stampeding from coal to natural gas and coal mining companies are seeing their stock prices plunge. The industry is responding the way it always has to threat: blaming government regulation and pouring money into influence peddling.
Judging from their latest efforts, however, they have very little to work with. The latest flail is to try to make a big deal out of the fact that the Obama administration recently added a bit on “clean coal” to its “all of the above” energy page. It’s Energywebpagegate! Or something.
From such thin threads is America’s Power attempting to weave an attack:
This aims for pathos but reaches only as far as pathetic. Even putting aside the absurdity of trying to make a website update into matter of Great Significance, the attack rests on a crude bait-and-switch that only the most gullible Tea Partier is going to miss.
In his campaign, Obama talked regularly about “clean coal.” By that he meant the common understanding of the term: coal plants that capture and sequester their CO2 emissions.
The EPA regulations decried in the middle section of the video do not affect “clean coal” in any way. They impose emission rules on dirty coal — coal plants that do not control their mercury, SO2, and/or CO2 emissions. It is dirty coal plants that are retiring right now, not “clean coal.”
The administration added a bit on clean coal to its website, but it only serves to call coal’s bluff. All actually existing coal in the U.S. is dirty. If the industry can actually build “clean coal,” why, it won’t be affected by EPA regulations! In fact, Obama’s own stimulus bill set aside $3.4 billion help “clean coal” along.
The ad speaks to the coal lobby’s desperation to blur the difference between clean and dirty. When it began, America’s Power touted itself as a “clean coal” group. But as this ad campaign makes clear, that was always a fig leaf, a bit of rhetorical slight-of-hand. It’s just a lobbying group for the coal industry.
Coal with CCS remains fantastically expensive and, in the U.S., rarer than a untelevised Kardashian. In terms of U.S. electricity markets, it is a non-entity. Its use in politics, by Obama and the coal industry alike, is as a symbolic gesture.
In reality, what we suffer from in the U.S. is dozens of old, dirty, unregulated coal plants that are sickening and killing people and accelerating climate change. Obama hasn’t — politically speaking, can’t — come out explicitly in favor of getting rid of them. But he’s never spoken in favor of them either, and his EPA has done more than any EPA in decades to finally clean them up. That’s entirely separate from his support for the “clean coal” unicorn.
So, to summarize: Obama is for “clean coal” and against unregulated dirty coal. There is no inconsistency, no flip-flop or backtrack, no hypocrisy. It’s not even that complicated.