Decades Of Deception: The Coal Industry Has Advertised ‘Clean Coal’ Since At Least 1921

A 1991 ad from a coal front group called Information Council on the Environment.

The coal industry has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to convince people that it can create an environmentally friendly product. However, whether it be the technological and cost barriers associated with capturing and storing carbon dioxide or the devastating impact of mountaintop mining on groundwater, ecosystems and human health, the concept of “clean” coal is a proven myth.

The coal industry’s push to brand coal as “clean” seems like a new phenomenon. In fact, as a new database of coal advertisements shows, this messaging strategy has been used by the industry since at least the 1920’s.

The database was put together by Greenpeace’s Quit Coal campaign. It features ads questioning global warming, obscuring the impact of acid rain, and railing on Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Here’s an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal from 1979 in which American Electric Power touts clean coal as the solution to “help make the America we see ahead a better America.”


It’s not just modern environmental laws that have forced the coal industry to re-brand itself. Here’s an ad from the New York Times from 1921 touting the superiority of clean coal:

You might have seen the next one in the Washington Post from 2009 when national lawmakers started getting serious about putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. It was around that time when the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity started spending tens of millions of dollars per year on such ads.

Check out the whole collection of ads. Media Matters also has an analysis of the ads here. Both provide an interesting glimpse into the coal industry’s messaging strategy over the decades.

5 Responses to Decades Of Deception: The Coal Industry Has Advertised ‘Clean Coal’ Since At Least 1921

  1. Ozonator says:

    I am unable to find any actual reference to the story of the 1st person in Germany to burn coal. It may have been after Marco Polo came back, was imprisoned, and the scientific wonders of China and the Ottoman Turks started to leak out. But, the 1st German kept warm for a time with coal until his neighbors got together and hacked him to death for filling the area’s air with smoke, soot, and toxic gases.

  2. The derisive tone of the 1991 ad speaks volumes about the mentality of the coal industry and deniers in general.

    Old school companies do not like challenges to the social and economic pecking order, especially if they are credible.

    It’s a fear-based mentality.

    Fearful entities do rash, repressive things.

    I expect the pressure on coal companies to grow as the weather gets increasingly unstable due to the rapid disintegration of the ice cap.,0,5522231.story

    I’m grateful for the democracy we have, however frayed and imperfect it is, to check the impulses of the powerful. What’s going on in South Africa is a model of how badly it can go otherwise.

  3. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Terminological inexactitudes.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The punishment was undoubtedly too extreme, but the general sense of it is impeccable.