Ten Reasons ‘Clean Coal’ Is Offensive

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.


8 Responses to Ten Reasons ‘Clean Coal’ Is Offensive

  1. M Tucker says:


    He was for it in the first campaign and I am not surprised that he is still for it. That is why I never believed he would take on the immense task of championing a serious climate bill. After he took office I got suckered. When he brought on Chu and Holdren I thought he might be persuaded of the importance of the situation. I had no idea that even strong supporters of government action would abandon their principles and ignore the growing threat. Just goes to show that even strong climate hawks can be neutered.

    The nasty fact is that a Democrat cannot get the electoral votes necessary to win without the coal states. Obama desperately wants to win Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia and the opinion of many coal miners is that Obama hates them, their jobs, coal in general, and wants to see them unemployed. President Obama will never say that he is in favor of removing mountain tops. He will never say we need more coal water waste from mines and more coal ash from power plants. He will never say that he is happy to see the increase in black lung because that means the coal industry is going strong. But he will say something that to me is equally repugnant: “You can’t tell me that we can put a man on the moon but not develop clean coal.”

  2. Calamity Jean says:

    The links in item #3, “Burning coal emits Mercury” and item #8, “Coal pollutes seafood and freshwater fish” aren’t working. I haven’t checked any of the others. Thanks.

  3. Mark Shapiro says:

    Coal is beautiful.

    Leave it in the ground where it belongs. And let the miners earn a living providing clean energy.

  4. BillD says:

    “clean coal” implies sequestering CO2, capturing particlulates and mercury at smoke stacks and greatly reducing pollution and destruction caused by mining. It’s hard to immagine how “clean coal” will ever be cost competitive with any alterntive.

  5. It is all about ethics. and coal is morally wrong.

    Nicely discussed in a climate ethics blog at:

  6. David Lewis says:

    American Electric Power cancelled their plan to build the Mountaineer plant, a large scale coal fired electric plant fitted with carbon capture, about a year ago.

    AEP’s CEO Mike Morris said the problem was not the technology, and it wasn’t that adding a carbon capture process to their coal fired electric plant would make the electricity it produced too expensive. The problem is there is no penalty on US utilities for emitting carbon. Because there is no carbon price, utilities are expected to take advantage of what is in effect the US government’s permission to use the atmosphere as their free garbage dump for CO2. Electric utility regulators will not allow utilities to recover the cost of mitigating emissions the US government allows them to dump into the atmosphere for free. Morris said the fact the US doesn’t have a carbon price was “the will of the elected officials of this country, and therefore, as a regulated utility, we simply are not able to go forward and scale this project up.”

    AEP had succeeded with a $100 million dollar test facility which confirmed to the company that electricity from the cancelled Mountaineer facility would have been “clearly cheaper than new nuclear”, and “clearly cheaper than sun and wind”. Only “the new potentially available shale natural gas combined cycle units” would produce electricity for less money.

    New shale gas plants produce cheaper electricity, but they emit more CO2 than the proposed cancelled Mountaineer plant.

    AEP’s CEO Morris was interviewed by Public Radio International’s Steve Gellerman for PRI’s “Living On Earth” episode “Death of Carbon Capture?”. A Podcast audio and transcript are available here

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    ‘Clean coal’ was also a favourite of our local Obama, Kevin Rudd. It’s total bulldust as even a cursory investigation reveals, and like nuclear fusion is always just over the horizon. Far enough away to keep the coal billions flowing and the money dripping into the pockets of various bogus ‘Institutes’ of mock ‘research’. Where real advances are being made in this country is in coal-seam gas, the utilisation of ‘brown coal’ the dirtiest coal of all, in Victoria, and, unbelievably, plans for coal liquefaction for fuel, an industry that makes even the tar sands abomination look ‘green’.

  8. J4zonian says:

    Never ever ever say C…. C….! Coal is dirty, and saying the other word reinforces the idea that it it’s not dirty, even when you’re denying it. I always call it “allegedly non-dirty coal” or “pseudo-non-dirty coal”; by using the word i can reinforce the idea that it’s still dirty, which of course, it is.