Coal industry front group touts benefits of strong emissions regulations

You may have thought the coal industry would never sing the praises of environmental regulations. But now that the clean coal carolers have moved on [see “The day the (coal) music died“], the ACCCE (American Coalition for Clean Coal Euphemisms?) is singing a different tune.

In an analysis titled “77 Percent Cleaner,” the ACCCE makes one of the strongest cases I have recently seen for EPA regulations:

Over the last 35 years, America’s coal-based electricity providers have invested more than $50 billion in technologies to reduce emissions. Due to investments like these, our coal-based generating fleet is more than 77 percent cleaner on the basis of regulated emissions per unit of energy produced.

The calculations are based on five pollutants: carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter. The data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reflects the environmental performance per unit of energy produced. That is, the relationship of emissions per billion kilowatt-hours. From 1970 to 2005, the value for that ratio fell from 30,510 short tons per billion kilowatt-hours to just 6,970 short tons per billion kilowatt-hours — a reduction of 77.15 percent.

If the coal industry is publicly bragging about reducing regulated emissions, then it is obviously endorsing those regulations. And if the industry is bragging about the investments it had to make because of those regulations, then it is implicitly stating it is prepared to make further, large investments to achieve new regulatory requirements.

The ACCCE even includes a nice figure that makes the case for strong greenhouse regulations:


Yes, this is emissions per billion kilowatt-hour, but that kind of emissions performance standard is precisely what the Center for American Progress and I have argued we need for carbon dioxide emissions (see “Can the coal industry be saved in spite of itself? Should it be?“).

The industry managed to cut regulated emissions per kWh by 50% in 15 years — and then cut them another 50% in 20 years.

So now let’s regulate greenhouse gas emissions and require coal power plants to cut carbon dioxide per kWh by 50% in 2025. And then another 50% by 2045. Our mantra should be — they did it before, so they can do it again!

Since the ACCCE is touting this chart now, after originally objecting to most clean air regulations of their industry, I can only assume that while they appear to be throwing a tantrum about prospective carbon regulations, in fact, like an adolescent forced to do their piano lessons every day, they will soon be bragging to all their friends about their musical talent.

Perhaps next year, the musicians at the ACCCE can write some new lyrics for the Clean Coal Carolers song, “Frosty, the Coal Man”:

Frosty the coal man is a jolly happy soul…
There must be magic in clean air regulations
For when they looked for pollutants
There was nearly none to see.

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9 Responses to Coal industry front group touts benefits of strong emissions regulations

  1. Brewster says:

    Oh, about the song:

    Don’t give up your day job…

    [JR: The scare thing is, from the “original” I only changed “clean coal technology” to “clean air regulations”!]

  2. paulm says:

    There is going to be a tipping point in the next 18 months to electric cars.

    Will the green infrastructure be there to cope or will this become another green disaster tipping point as more coal is consumed?

  3. paulm says:

    Climate Change devastation by a 1000 cuts….the world is slowly drowning
    (in certain areas)

    Fiji floods: ‘Where is all this water coming from?’
    Fiji’s military government declared a state of emergency and imposed dusk-to-dawn curfews in some parts of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, after torrential rain caused flooding reportedly three meters high that destroyed countless homes

  4. Time to look at the history of the tobacco industry PR campaigns.

    “Now with the Micronite Filter ! ”

    [Surgeons General Warning: Combustion of coal without proper filtration…]

  5. John McCormick says:

    “77 Percent Cleaner,” except when CO2 is a concern.

    Coal fired plants, in 2007, contributed half of the grid’s electic power and 2.083 billion tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. In 2000, those plants emitted 2.072 billion tons of CO2.

    We are running our coal plants harder today than yesterday to keep up with increasing electric demand.

    The coal plants put 1.976 trillion kilowatt-hours of power into the grid in 2000. In 2007, their power to the grid increased to 2.034 trillion kilowatt-hours.

    John McCormick

  6. naught101 says:

    I don’t think “they did it before, so they can do it again!” is a particularly… true mantra. The six pollutants that they mention are not really products of the energy-production process, but by-products made when impurities in the coal are burnt. You can’t compare them with CO2 (and of course it’s irresponsible for the coal industry to be claiming that coal power is 75% cleaner these days, since those emissions aren’t a very large fraction of the total emissions, and the rest is nearly all CO2).

    They can’t do it again, because CO2 is an integral part of the process. The only two options are to bury the by-products, which seems immoral, especially where leakage is concerned, and will have limited potential anyway, or switch to another source.

    I appreciate that the “they did it before, so they can do it again!” call is shoving them up against a wall of their own creation, however it won’t work, and it just gives them another stalling tactic in the long run.

    [JR: They can do it, actually. But it requires biomass cofiring.]

  7. You’ve misrepresented our position!

    ACCCE does support a mandatory federal plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions — provided we simultaneously work to protect energy security and keep energy costs affordable for consumers. Striking this balance will require hard work, but it can be done.

    We know that coal has a big role to play in the future, even with the possibility (even likelihood) of future carbon regulations.

    That is why investing in advanced clean coal technologies for the capture and storage of CO2 is so important, and we call upon groups that might not have supported coal R&D in the past to reconsider their position on that point.
    For more information, take a look at our 12 legislative climate change principles for federal carbon management legislation:

  8. Alex says:

    So we’re supposed to gamble on the eventual commercial success of CCS, and proceed with building more coal-fired power plants? The coal industry may be investing in IGCC, but that’s no guarantee that those plants will be able to implement CCS at reasonable cost. Do we “know” it will be commercially successful/cost-competitive with other green alternatives within a decade or so? If not, who gets to pay? I’d need to see more specifics before I could support putting many eggs in that basket.

  9. Kathryn Schwartz says:

    It amazes me that the television news media has been so lax in reporting on ‘clean coal’ and all the problems it represents- the Tennessee spill as an example, but it certainly does impress me that the online alternative news sources- such as yourself- are making sure that there’s a dialogue occuring on this issue, whichever side you fall on it. However, should you (like me) believe that there is no such thing as clean coal, it is imperative that we add action to words and fight for clean energy solutions that are, in fact, clean. is a coalition of many groups dedicated to fighting the misinformation about clean coal. It’s a great website that details the push for 100 Days of Action in 100 Days to Power Past Coal. You can add events in your community to increase awareness and participation, or you can use the site to merely access the multitudes of information available about the myth of clean coal.