Originally posted at the Wonk Room.
The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the coal industry’s propaganda front group, is upbeat about this election day, as indicated by their press release today. ACCCE VP Joe Lucas claimed:
If “support for the use of coal for generating electricity” were on the ballot today, it would win by a landslide.
His choice of words is unfortunate, as landslides are only one of the many deadly hazards of coal mining, especially under the lax safety enforcement of the Bush administration.
ACCCE is celebrating a poll that showed their $50 million propaganda campaign influenced “adults with $80,000 or more in household income and a four-year college degree or more and a professional or managerial job title or a business owner and a high degree of involvement in politics and policy matters.”
However, all the PR spin in the world can’t affect scientific reality. America’s coal plants produce about 49 percent of U.S. electricity but account for 83 percent of power-sector emissions. And we need to reduce net emissions to zero as fast as humanly possible to preserve our civilization from catastrophic global warming.
The tobacco industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars to obscure the scientific fact that their product is an addictive, deadly drug. After decades of debate, after millions of Americans had their lives unnecessarily shortened, our government crafted policies that protected tobacco farmers and reduced the tobacco industry’s grip. Even so, the needless deaths continue, all to protect the profits of a very powerful few.
Our current situation with the coal industry is similar, but the stakes are even more grave. No matter what actions Washington, D.C. takes, the 80,000 people in the coal mining industry — 0.02 percent of the U.S. population — should be taken care of. These workers deserve better than they are getting today, as the union-busting coal barons ignore safety regulations and cut benefits. But make no mistake — the burning of coal is burning up the planet.
The world is not going to stop using coal for decades, even if the United States were to move entirely to a fossil-free power grid. If we can develop the technology needed to economically capture the emissions of coal plants, and I hope we can, then the coal industry will have the opportunity to rake in billions of dollars in profits for a few more generations.
The saddest thing about the ACCCE campaign is not its facile dishonesty, but that we continue to have a political discourse that places more weight on perception than reality.