Proponents of clean coal fight against cleaner coal
The actions of clean coal proponents suggest they simply want the status quo. If less dirty coal were their goal, then a clean coal alliance like ACCCE would champion proven control methods and utilities like Southern Company would use them throughout their coal fleets. But that’s not the case: ACCCE and Southern Company are actually fighting the adoption of clean coal technologies in their home territory and on Capitol Hill every step of the way.
As the United States Environmental Protection Agency proposes and adopts new rules to clear the air and water, ACCCE and Southern Company are among the loudest and best funded opponents. ACCCE recently derided clean air regulations for being “the most expensive EPA rules ever imposed on coal-fueled power plants . . .” without ever mentioning their environmental “clean” benefits. Southern Company has likewise lambasted EPA proposals and stated, in particular, that by pushing for implementation of environmental technology EPA is proposing “one of the most burdensome” and “far reaching” rules ever. They too fail to mention that the farther reaching the rule, the greater the protections for human health and the environment and the cleaner their operations will become.
Kicking the coal down the road
Besides fighting regulations that will help to make coal less dirty, proponents of clean coal are also trying to change the nature of the debate by passing over the proven technologies that address traditional pollutants and instead harping on unproven technologies that may never come to fruition.
ACCCE likes to talk about carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which is often touted as a cure for the climate crisis. The technology would collect carbon from smoke stacks and pump it below ground where it would, theoretically, be safely stored indefinitely. Unfortunately, CCS has yet to be implemented on a large scale and the costs may be so high that coal companies, who still balk at installing less expensive proven technology, would refuse to widely adopt CCS.
Coalitions like ACCCE may like CCS because it is much easier to advocate for government and academic research and investment than to actually spend the time, effort and money to adopt an existing technology. In other words, they are just taking the easy way out by shifting the focus from what they can do now to what they may or may not do in the future. If coal advocates are always just hoping, without commitment, for the next big thing, they continue to shirk responsibility for their contribution to pollution today and are really just talking out of both sides of their mouths. They are promoting clean coal while fighting any efforts at climate change legislation and criticizing EPA for its efforts to reduce climate and traditional pollutants.
This type of double-speak makes it embarrassingly clear that the propaganda of clean coal and the reality of less dirty coal are wildly divergent. Coal will not clean up because coal companies don’t want to spend money on less dirty coal. These groups may continue to fight incremental changes, but as they kick and scream, we are all beginning to see a monumental change as our overall reliance on coal is declining. Only when coal becomes a marginal part of our energy generation will we actually be on our way to a clean energy future.