Oy, this is frustrating.

Harry ReidLast week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid gave an extraordinary speech to open the Renewable Energy World Conference in Las Vegas. He talked up the opportunities of a green economy, laid out concrete policies for getting there, and blasted the coal industry for standing in the way.

Unfortunately, just before the speech he gave an interview to the Las Vegas Sun in which he accused the coal industry of using "the old Hitler lie: when you say things long enough people start believing them."

Oops! A Hitler comparison. There’s the headline. There’s the story. Everything else gets washed away. And sure enough, his staffers went into full scramble and here he is today in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, apologizing:

"I never said they were as bad as Hitler," the senator said in an interview last week. "I said what they’re doing is creating the big lie that coal is clean, and that’s not true. That (tactic) goes back to the Nazi era, and I’m not saying they’re following anything to do with the Nazis, but that’s where it started."

For the record, the "Big Lie" notion started out in Hitler’s Mein Kampf (he accused the Jews of it), was later given a slightly different spin by Joseph Goebbels, and turned up several times in George Orwell’s 1984. I believe Lenin also gave it his own spin. By now it’s fairly well known and accepted by social scientists that if something is repeated often enough — even if some of the repetition is done in the course of refutation — the public will eventually come to believe it. (Like, um, “clean coal.”)

In fact, it’s so well known that if I were a politician referring to the Big Lie theory, I wouldn’t bring Hitler into it at all. I advise Mr. Reid to adopt that same strategy from now on.

Anyway, here’s a longer section from Reid’s speech (PDF), in which he beats coal about the head and shoulders:

And many thousands of miles from far away China, yes here in Nevada, the Ely Energy Center coal project is over budget and experts say it will wind up costing well over $4 billion — if the power company even builds it at all.

Once that massive construction bill is paid, the plant would cough and sputter out dirty power that will not only pollute the earth, but cost consumers 12 or 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. More — much more — than they are paying now.

And that’s not all. On top of the high price of coal power, studies show that there are hidden costs of $30 per megawatt hour or more — like respiratory illness, radiation, and hazardous waste.

A UNLV study found that solar, wind, geothermal and biomass projects would create more than $20 billion in business for Nevada over the next 25 years.

Each new megawatt of geothermal power creates up to ten new jobs.

Each new megawatt of solar-thermal and wind power create at least 6 new jobs.

If just half of Nevada’s potential clean energy resources were developed, 22,000 new jobs in the next decade would be created.

Does coal compare? Not even close.

The $30 per megawatt hour of hidden environmental and health costs is just the tip of the dirty iceberg.

Fossil fuels are contributing to global warming. We’re experiencing severe and unpredictable weather, our ice caps are melting at a record pace, and as we are seeing in Lake Mead, our water sources are in danger all over America.

Big energy companies see these warning signs as clearly as we, but their solution — build more coal plants.

If the current proposals for new Western coal plants are built, they would consume 114 million gallons of water per day.

That’s enough water to meet the needs of 591,000 homes.

The only type of power that uses more water than coal is nuclear.

What is the daily discharge from a coal fired plant? It is waste, contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic, lead and other toxins — other poisons.

This foul discharge is in our lakes, streams and water tables. This is the water we drink.

This Nevada coal plan is just one example. The damage caused by fossil fuels, of course, is not limited to Nevada or the West.

Our country burns 1 billion tons of coal every year. That produces 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Coal plants release sixty varieties of hazardous air pollutants, among them lead, chromium, arsenic and mercury.

Is it any wonder that tens of millions of Americans live in areas that fail to meet the EPA’s air quality standards?

Is it any wonder that hundreds of thousands of Americans every year suffer from asthma attacks, respiratory problems and heart attacks, all from the dirty air caused by coal plants?

Is today — is tomorrow — the time to invest in new coal for electricity plants — the answer is a resounding no.

We’ve all seen the advertising campaigns for a mythological substance called “clean coal.” We know there’s no such thing. There is no clean coal, only cleaner coal. Less dirty coal.

In Congress for more than a quarter of a century, I have supported research for a cleaner coal. After billions of our taxpayer dollars — limited progress has been made.

I will continue my support — but if anything good comes from this, it will be many tomorrows from this February day.

Vice President Gore said that — “We … need a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store carbon dioxide.”

That means for now, no new coal plants. Let us — in Nevada — follow the admonition of the Nobel and Oscar-winning Vice President.