Last night I debated the role of coal in our country’s energy future with Peabody Energy VP of Government Relations Fred Palmer on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis.

The debate took place in front of more than 500 students and community members at Graham Chapel on campus, and was watched live online by nearly 4,700 additional interested observers.

Here are four minutes of highlights:

If you want to watch the full debate, click here.

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The debate was a great conversation about the dangers presented by coal and there was frank dialogue between Mr. Palmer and I about important issues.  Unfortunately, when trying to make the case in favor of a dirty and dangerous source of power like coal, Mr. Palmer strayed from the truth. There were two factual errors in particular I wanted to mention here.

If you go to minute five of the full length debate video, you’ll hear Mr. Palmer talk about how Peabody Energy cares about safety. If that’s true, then why does his company operate one of the coal mines with the most safety violations in the U.S.? From a Business Week article:

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Peabody’s Air Quality No. 1 coal mine in Knox County, Indiana, tops the U.S. in citations, with 1,419. The company’s operation in Saline County, Illinois, has accumulated 1,217 citations, according to (Mine Safety and Health Administration) data.

The Knox County mine has more than twice the number of citations as the Upper Branch mine in West Virginia that was the site of the terribly sad mining disaster earlier this month. This track record of unsafe mines certainly does not support Mr. Palmer’s claims that Peabody cares about safety.

Later in the debate, Mr. Palmer said that it is safer to work in mine than to work at Wal-Mart. I have to disagree, and I think most Americans would, too, especially after reading this article in USA Today about how(d)ays missed because of serious injuries in the nation’s mines have spiked sharply this decade.

Mr. Palmer’s second inaccurate statement last night was that Peabody has not participated in mountaintop removal coal mining since he’s been there. Mountaintop removal is the irresponsible practice where mining companies blow the tops off mountains to reach a thin seam of coal and then, to minimize waste disposal costs, dump millions of tons of waste rock into the valleys below, causing permanent damage to the ecosystem and landscape.

Despite Mr. Palmer’s claim that Peabody does not partake in this hazardous mining practice, the facts show that he joined Peabody in 2001, and up until 2007, Peabody owned mountaintop removal coal mines in West Virginia and Kentucky.

Our country can do better than coal, and our college campuses for sure can do better than coal. I really enjoyed the time spent talking to the students at Washington University about the need to switch from coal to clean energy, and about not believing the “green” coal babble the industry is spouting now.

I was also inspired to see so many young people at the debate last night who believe that our nation can and should be powered by clean energy. We even got a great example of that belief today when the Obama administration approved the Cape Wind offshore wind project in Massachusetts. These students are a great reminder that our future is bright.

After the debate, this bright future was highlighted by student and debate organizer, Arielle Klagsbrun. “Our struggle to remove coal’s influence from our campus is a struggle going on all across America, and we will succeed,” Arielle said in a press release the students put out earlier today. “In six years, our generation, the millennial generation, will make up one-third of the voting population. We are not asking for an end to coal, we are ending it.”