By Kevin Grandia
According to the Washington Examiner yesterday, President Obama’s campaign team is going “on the offensive to promote [the President’s] support for clean coal”.
I am not sure if the article is using “offensive” in the appropriate way when it comes to talking about clean coal. Clean coal is nothing more than a made up marketing phrase that author Jeff Goodell best described:
“Clean coal” is not an actual invention, a physical thing — it is an advertising slogan. Like “fat-free donuts” or “interest-free loans.”
It is PR spin not based in reality and President Obama and his campaign team are playing a part in trying to dupe the public again, much like they did in the 2008 election cycle. Coal is far from clean and no amount of spin or wordsmithing is going to change that.
Here’s ten reasons why:
1. Coal increases rates of disease. The United States burns more than a billion tons of coal each year — that’s 20 pounds of coal for every person in the country, every day.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, as many as 36,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.
2. Coal kills jobs. Despite coal industry claims that coal mining creates lots of jobs, the truth is that coal mining employment has been declining for decades, due to increased use of machinery instead of manpower.
A study last year found that just 56 percent of every 1,000 jobs promised by coal utilities actually materialize. In West Virginia alone, coal mining employment has plummeted from 126,000 miners in 1948 (who produced 168 million tons of coal), to just 15,000 miners employed in 2005 (who, with the help of machinery, produced 128 million tons of coal).
3. Burning coal emits Mercury. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-generated mercury pollution in the U.S. Mercury emissions from electrical generation continues to rise.
Mercury in mothers’ blood and breast milk can interfere with the development of babies’ brains and neurological systems and can lead to learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, problems with coordination, lowered IQ and even mental retardation.
4. Burning coal is fuel for climate disruption. The U.S. produces about 25 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.
5. Burning coal drives climate change. The US produces about 25 percent of global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels, and coal contributes 40 percent of US carbon emissions.
6. Coal kills miners. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 12,000 coal miners died from black lung disease between 1992 and 2002. And events like the Upper Big Branch mine disaster are grim reminders of how coal companies put profits over the health and safety of miners.
7. Coal wastes huge amounts of water. Coal mining requires an estimated 70 to 260 million gallons of water every day.
8. Coal pollutes seafood and freshwater fish. 49 U.S. states have issued fish consumption advisories due to high mercury concentrations in freshwater bodies throughout the country.
Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of human-generated mercury pollution in the U.S.
9. Coal destroys mountains. Instead of traditional mining, many coal companies now use mountaintop removal to extract coal.
Coal companies are increasingly using this method because it allows for almost complete recovery of coal seams while reducing the number of workers required to a fraction of what conventional methods require.
Mountaintop removal involves clear cutting native hardwood forests, using dynamite to blast away as much as 800-1000 feet of mountaintop, and then dumping the waste into nearby valleys, often burying streams.
10. Coal companies are polluting our democracy. Coal utilities and mining companies are spending millions of dollars on campaign contributions and fielding an army of lobbyists to roll back public health safeguards on coal pollution. Duke Energy alone has given $3 million since 1999.
So is coal clean? Nope. Is the term offensive? Yep, if you mean offensive as in “causing anger, displeasure, resentment, or affront.” I expect soon to see First Lady Michelle Obama on the campaign trail promoting fat-free donuts as part of her battle to end obesity in America.
We need leadership from the President on energy issues, not made-up words and PR spin.
Kevin Grandia is the Director of Online Strategy for Greenpeace USA. This piece was originally published at the Huffington Post and was reprinted with permission from the author.