I'll give you a lump!

Santa moonlighting on K Street?
Photo: iStockphoto

I heard from someone in downtown D.C. this morning who ran into a guy in a Santa suit who handed him a flier saying, "even Santa is rethinking his position on coal!"

Yes, really. From The Hill:

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Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) is sending 30 Santas to Capitol Hill on Wednesday to deliver stockings filled with coal-shaped chocolate.

The goal of the campaign is to shift coal’s image as a key contributor to global warming to a relatively cheap and increasingly clean provider of electricity. With supplies sufficient to turn the lights on for another 250 Christmases, coal should remain a mainstay of power generation, ABEC believes.

This is only the beginning of what promises to be an enormous PR campaign by an industry that sees the writing on the wall. In public, it will be smiles and Santas. Behind the scenes, it will be slime campaigns against candidates who dare propose a shift to renewable energy.

For a taste of what the public-facing campaign is going to look like, watch the introductory movie on the ABEC site. It’s a compact masterpiece of propaganda:

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1. "Life is about balancing options." Here an attractive white woman lazes about on the green grass, clearly balancing her need to work hard with her need to take some time for herself. Mmm … balance. Sounds good!

2. "We want a clean environment …" Here, a father and son sit in a field somewhere out in nature, watching a stream go by. A pleasant luxury, to be sure.

3. "… but we need affordable and reliable electricity to fuel our daily lives." Here we see a pretty little girl in the kitchen, surrounded by the appliances that all Americans use every day. Certainly this is a much more familiar scene for most people than sitting in a field watching a stream.

4. "Thanks to clean coal technology, we don’t have to choose." The coup de grace, the tension reliever. Most people do want a clean environment in the abstract, but they’re not about to take the stove and microwave away from their pretty little girl. Thus all this talk about "balancing options" leaves a residual tension and a touch of guilt. But now ABEC tells us we don’t have to choose! We can have it all! Thanks, coal!

5. "Technology has reduced emissions leading to improved air quality …" Look at all those people frolicking on the beach, breathing that clean air! And they thought they had to balance options.

6. "… while electricity usage has increased and prices have remained affordable." A woman blissfully vacuums off her drapes — something her ancestors were unable to do, thanks to the lack of coal. Are you going to tell this woman to turn that vacuum off?!

7. "Electricity from coal … it’s striking the balance." This sums up the underlying message, which might be rephrased as, "Look, do you really want to lose your cheap power? We didn’t think so. Trust us that we’re ‘balancing’ the whole environment thing. Now go back to watching TV."

One more thing that’s worth emphasizing about this campaign: New coal can no longer compete on price. The public is increasingly turning against it. The only card it has left is government largesse. So this campaign is all about influencing policymakers to give the coal industry more subsidies. It’s the last resort of every decrepit industry — turning to the public teat.