There’s a lot of hubbub about the latest Obama coal controversy. To state the obvious: there’s very little chance that something like this, breaking this late in the election, will have any effect on anything. It’s sound and fury.

That said, folks should look closely at exactly what Obama said. As I argued in these three posts, he’s been fairly clear about his position on coal: he would spend money on R&D for "clean coal," but would pursue policies that would serve as an effective moratorium on dirty coal.

Usually, for political reasons, he emphasizes the support for "clean coal"– he’s making a big play for Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other coal states, so this gives him a way to highlight pro-coal sentiment without making any policy promises he won’t keep.

In the interview, he emphasizes the other half: the fact that his cap-and-trade system would "bankrupt" anyone who attempted to build a conventional dirty coal plant.

To repeat again: this has been Obama’s stated position all along.

If you want to know why he’s been playing down the no-dirty-coal side, just look at the frenzy yesterday, with attacks from McCain, Palin, the Western Business Roundtable, the National Mining Association, and other coal cheerleaders. (Lots more on the right-wing’s insane reaction from Brad Johnson.)

Of course McCain’s cap-and-trade program, to the extent it had any efficacy at all, would also serve to prevent the construction of new dirty coal plants — that is the very sine qua non of effective climate policy. And yet he said this today:

My friends, I’ve been a coal booster and it’s going to create jobs, and we’re going to export coal to other countries and we are going to create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

This is grotesque, desperate pandering. As Joe points out, the coal mining industry supports about 80,000 people total. Where are "hundreds of thousands" of jobs going to come from? And watch this:

Regardless, the moral of this story is that Obama managed to navigate the election with a fairly strong policy on coal without compromising it or paying a price for it. (Seriously, listen to the interview — he could not be more blunt.) McCain, on the other hand, started with a fairly weak position and has been strenuously backtracking from it throughout.

And yet Obama’s ahead.