Yesterday I wrote about an energy conference in Utah at which Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer enthusiastically shilled for coal and demanded more federal money for it.

Looking more closely at the conference, I see I shouldn’t have been surprised. The Salt Lake Tribune story from yesterday is all but a press release for Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., who hosted the shindig. Toward the end, though, it drops this tidbit:

Some of the West’s biggest names in energy, including $10,000-apiece Platinum sponsors Arch Coal, Rocky Mountain Power, Questar, Chevron and Bill Barrett Corp., are paying for the summit.

Hmm. It also notes that the summit organizer is Jim Sims, who “some environmental groups have criticized.”

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Jim SimsIf we turn to another SLT story just two days ago, we find that Sims runs an outfit called Policy Communications, which was hired by Hunstman to run the summit. We find out that Sims is a long-time lobbyist for extractive industries, and the head of the Western Business Roundtable and Partnership for the West, which most recently have been fighting the listing of polar bears as endangered. We find out that Sims was on Dick Cheney’s infamous energy task force.

And we find out that Sims’ latest nonprofit is devoted to clean coal.

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For what the Trib story doesn’t tell us, we hop over to this Wilderness Society factsheet (PDF). There we find out that Sims and Policy Communications are the registered owners of the Save Our Species Alliance and Americans for American Energy websites.

SOSA is an astroturf organization created for the purpose of of convincing the public to accept the gutting of the Endangered Species Act

AAE is an astroturf organization — Sims is its president and only listed staff member — created for the purpose of convincing the American public to accept drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

What do both groups have in common? They were created by notorious PR firm Pac/West Communications, which also brought you Project Protect, an astroturf group that helped bamboozle Bush’s "Healthy Forests" act passed a supplicant Congress.

The definitive piece on the elaborate network of political operatives and industry front groups of which Pac/West is a part is Paul D. Thacker’s “Hidden Ties.”

And as a kind of rotted cherry on top of this corruption sundae: earlier this year, Pac/West was joined by new senior partner, ex-California representative Richard “Dick” Pombo, fresh from his humiliating defeat at the hands of wind-energy entrepreneur and engineer Jerry McNerney.

So, where does that leave us?

The energy summit in Utah was organized by a man with a long history as a paid shill for extractive industries and funded by huge dirty-energy companies. Out of it emerged cheerleading for clean coal and demands for federal subsidies thereof.

Remember: despite the new moniker, clean coal is coal, a fossil fuel backed by a fossil fuel industry. It’s the same Big Coal with deep ties in state and federal government and a long history of corruption. It’s an industry that’s spent practically a century entrenching itself and fighting off competitors. It founded the 20-year campaign of obfuscation and denial on global warming. Now it’s selling “alternative energy.” To Big Coal, clean coal is a ticket to survival and even greater riches. Whatever it takes to keep power and keep sucking off the government teat.

Expect the coal industry to mount a PR campaign around clean coal just as pervasive, well-funded, and disingenuous as the one now being mounted by the nuclear industry. Both are cynically piggy-backing the climate change issue, and both are practiced at astroturf propaganda and political rent-seeking. They warrant watching like a hawk. Remember that next time Jim Sims’ name pops up.