Two Stanford scholars have taken to the pages of Newsweek to pen a piece on “clean coal” that embodies all the pretzel logic surrounding that subject.

It’s called “Dirty Coal Is Winning” — and the reason dirty coal is winning, we’re told, is that we’re not dumping enough money into the quest for clean coal. Oh, and those pesky environmentalists:

Environmentalists, in their opposition to coal of any kind, may provide the coup de grâce. Greenpeace, riffing on James Bond, is hawking a “Coalfinger” spoof on the internet and is deep in a campaign to stop all new coal plants. U.S. environmental groups recently announced a campaign to expose clean coal as a chimera. Thanks to such efforts, in the United States it’s now nearly impossible to build any kind of coal plant, including tests of clean technology. As the world economy recovers, nations will once again turn to their old stalwart, dirty coal.

Damn greens! Their efforts to expose the fact that there’s no such thing as clean coal are preventing us from creating something called clean coal. (But seriously: Can someone point to a bona fide test of coal with CCS that enviros prevented? Not “CCS ready,” that is, but actual CCS?)

Notice, though, the unspoken premise here: Our choice is dirty coal or “clean coal.” If we don’t spend billions on “clean coal,” we’re stuck with dirty coal.

It says something extremely bad about our energy debate that you can write a piece in Newsweek that simply assumes that premise, without defense. Let’s go down the same old path:

We need an alternative to dirty coal.


So we need clean coal.


The world has a lot of coal.

But the world has vastly more sunlight and wind.

People are used to burning coal, though, and know how to do it.

But we don’t know how to do it cleanly. Coal with sequestered CO2 is a decade away, optimistically.

Coal is cheap!

But coal with sequestered carbon will be vastly more expensive than dirty coal.

But it’s the only alternative.

What about a combination of efficiency and renewable energy?

Renewable energy is too expensive.

But we just agreed that “clean coal” is expensive too.

We can drive the price down with research and subsidies.

Then why not drive down the price of renewables and efficiency with research and subsidies?

All of the above!

Then why are you writing articles implicitly claiming that “clean coal” is the only alternative to dirty coal?

Coal is cheap!

[Bangs head on desk.]