Hello: My Name Is Big Coal Good God. If you want to see the coal industry’s bizarre, Möbius strip arguments in all their glory, check out this Reuters article conveying the comments of Brett Harvey, CEO of coal producer Consol Energy. The mind reels.

I want to look at some of the individual statements, but what it comes down to is this: Harvey says we can’t live without coal — there’s no other way to get the power we need. But coal can’t afford to clean itself up. So if we want clean power, taxpayers have to pay for it.

In short: extortion. That is the essence of the coal industry’s message to the American people.

Now, on to the rest:

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"If you’re not going to use coal anymore what are you going to use?" he said he asks anti-coal advocates. "Well, they respond to you: new technology, solar and wind."

No. No "anti-coal advocate" thinks you can just knock down coal plants and replace them with Something Else plants and go on your merry way. The whole paradigm — highly concentrated energy, central generation, dumb grid, sprawling land use, industrial agriculture, profligate, wasteful energy use — has to change. We’re not switching out central processors in the mainframe. We’re moving from a mainframe to distributed computing.

"My response is: ‘Well, how does that work? and they say: ‘I don’t know but we need to study it,"’ Harvey said in an interview during this week’s Reuters Environment Summit.

No. They have studied it, and they’ve come up with plans like this and this that show how to do it. Maybe Harvey should read them.

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"Well if it was really that easy, don’t you think we’d have already done this? Do you think we would already have avoided the Clean Air Act and everything we’ve done to clean up coal over the years and gone automatically to that?" said Harvey, whose Pittsburgh-based company produces approximately 70 million tons of coal per year.

Well no, it won’t be easy. After all, we have about a century’s worth of tax code, laws, and regulations designed to encourage sprawl, massive hard energy infrastructure, and energy waste. Oh, and we have wealthy and politically entrenched industries like, um, coal fighting every step of the way, just like they fought the Clean Air Act. Big Coal, Big Utility, Big Auto, Big Oil … moving to an energy paradigm where they are bit players is going to be a vicious, bloody fight. Harvey’s wide-eyed protestations ring a bit hollow, like the mob enforcer who says, "gosh, if this neighborhood could protect itself, why do you need me?" ‘Cause we fear for our kneecaps, ya jerk.

"There is a direct relationship between the use of coal and a healthy economy," he said. "When you quit using 50 percent of your electricity then we can talk. If you throttle back the use of coal and drive your base power costs up, you make all the products we make more expensive."

Wow. You can’t have a healthy economy without coal, huh? You can’t have a healthy economy without polluting the air and water, killing people, breaking laws, and heating the atmosphere. Can someone tell Denmark that its existence is impossible? Oh, and California?

"I think the whole mantra of the environmental groups is: don’t waste energy and if you make everything more expensive the theory is you use less. That’s the underlying basis of their argument, but it’s not the nature of the American public or probably anyone in the world," Harvey said.

If the price of a good or service rises, people will use less of it. This is, unless I’m mistaken, as close to a fundamental law of economics as you’re likely to find. But "it’s not the nature of the American public"? I’ve heard some American exceptionalism in my day, but immunity to the law of supply and demand?

And finally, just to top it off, a bit of grossly disingenuous moral bribery:

"If you take coal out of the equation and you try to eliminate coal, based on the environment, the people you hurt the most will be poor people," he added.

Yeah, if there’s one thing Big Coal cares about, it’s poor people. You can tell by the way they devastate Appalachian communities, fight against social programs, union bust, and skimp on mine safety. They’re regular Ghandis!

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