Kate Mackenzie Gloves are off in ‘clean coal’ battle

Clean coal sceptics have a new weapon: film-makers. The Coen brothers havedirected a satirical TV spot for the Reality Alliance, a coalition of environmental organisations dedicated to tackling the coal industry’s arguments that it is in fact not so bad for the environment.

And it doesn’t stop there. Next week Washington will see  “first big protest of its kind against global warming in this country”. And in the Guardian today, an angry Fred Pearce writes about the ‘oxymoron of clean coal’. Pearce takes aim at its claim that coal is already much cleaner than we think, and that carbon capture is the solution. First, the lobbyists:

It’s hard to keep track of the differing organisations behind this. First there was Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. Last year that merged with the Center for Energy and Economic Development to create the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). That body is now headlining as something called America’s Power. The one thing they have got is money. Money to try and persuade us that coal is good, coal is green and coal is the solution to America’s energy needs.

The ACCCE spent $38m last year buying TV, newspaper and magazine space to persuade Americans that coal can be clean and carbon-free. The money mostly came from its members in the coal mining, transportation and burning industries.

He rejects the  ACCCE’s claim that “today’s coal-based generating fleet is 70% cleaner”.

But check more closely and you’ll notice that the ACCCE doesn’t mention which gases are covered by this claim. In fact, the industry has cut emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxides under acid-rain legislation enacted years ago. That’s what the 70% refers to. But it has not cut planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.