“CLEAN” COAL DOUBLE EXPOSURE
The growing strength of the grassroots anti-coal movement is indicated nowhere more clearly than in its opponent, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).
Funded by powerful players in the coal industry, ACCCE is the advocacy group that runs coal's expensive, pervasive “clean” coal campaign. The plan has long been to convince the public coal can be “clean” because there is a theory, called carbon-capture-and-storage (CCS), that greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs) MIGHT be captured and safely stored.
Bryan Walsh, Time Magazine: “The "clean coal" campaign was always more PR than reality — currently there's no economical way to capture and sequester carbon emissions from coal, and many experts doubt there ever will be…”
Not only does CCS technology not exist at affordable or commercial scale, but there is a lot more to making coal clean than capturing the GhG spew. The late-December coal ash spill that left a portion of northeast Tennessee a disaster area is the latest in a long chain of evidence refuting ACCCE’s claim.
As the anti-coal movement now points out, the environmentally disastrous coal ash spill has fixed in public perception an image of coal so threatening as to leave ACCCE, in spite of its deep-pocket funders, without a reasonable response. The spill, just before Christmas, dumped 100 times more waste than the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster and left the area near Harriman, Tennessee, a potentially toxic site.
Workers are still trying to clean up the ~5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash.
Coal ash is the solid byproduct of burned coal. It has been piling up at hundreds of coal plants around the country since coal plants began capturing the waste they formerly spewed into the air. Both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Research Council found ash contains significant levels of carcinogens, including enough arsenic to increase cancer risks hundreds of times should it leach into groundwater near storage piles.
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Thomas Burke, environmental risk expert, Johns Hopkins University: "This is hazardous waste, and it should be classified as such…"
Yet the EPA has repeatedly refused to label coal ash toxic waste, probably because of the burdens and costs such a move would impose on the coal industry. It should be buried securely in safely lined underground structures but estimates put the cost of such an undertaking at $5 billion a year.
Eric Schaeffer, director, Environmental Integrity Project: "You can't talk about clean coal without dealing with this problem…"
If the coal industry were to take the steps necessary to eliminate its waste, it would lose its biggest edge in the energy market, its cheapness. Wind is already price competitive with coal and solar is approaching parity. Adding the burden of cleaning itself up would make the coal industry's product cleaner but costlier. And solving the coal ash problem would not elimate the many other coal “dirtinesses” that begin with environmentally devastating mining, continue on to atmosphere-compromising GhGs and end with an array of toxins left behind after burning.
Bruce Nilles, director, Sierra Club National Coal Campaign: "For all the money the industry has spent to mislead the public, [the Tennessee coal ash spill] shows that there really is no such thing as clean and cheap coal in the U.S…"
The coal industry has had some success filtering sulfur dioxide and mercury from its spew. That is what ACCCE means by “clean” coal, a phrase Al Gore calls a “meme. A meme is a phrase that takes its meaning not from facts but from repeated use.
From Current via YouTube.
Faced with the impossibility of being both clean and cheap, the coal industry hired ACCCE to apply the wizardry of public relations and give it the appearance of being clean.
The Coal Industry Strategy Letter to CEO of Peabody Energy, a 2004 memo obtained by investigative journalist Kevin Grandia that was written by Steve Miller (CEO, ACCCE, then called the Center for Energy and Economic Development, CEED) to Irl Engelhardt (CEO of coal giant Peabody Energy), reveals the subterfuge by which they colluded to created the “clean” coal meme.
While world leaders were trying to organize an effective international fight against global climate change, the coal industry was making other plans.
From the memo: "In the climate change arena, CEED focuses on three areas: opposing government-mandated controls of greenhouse gases (GHG), opposing "regulation by litigation", and supporting sequestration and technology as the proper vehicles for addressing any reasonable concerns about greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere."
It wasn’t so much that ACCCE/CEED and the coal industry liked the idea of carbon capture (CCS) technology as that they needed something to sell.
From the memo: “Our belief is that, on climate change like other issues, you must be for something rather than against everything. The combination of carbon sequestration and technology is what we preach and we are looking for more members in the choir.”
ACCCE's enthusiasm for CCS technology is a likely an indication the coal industry does not expect such technology to ever actually be available. There is certainly cynicism implicit not only in the tone of the memo but in the very act of advocating for nonexistent technology at the expense of workable solutions.
There was also a very coherent intent to block Congressional legislation through which the U.S. could join in the climate change fight.
From the memo: "The McCain-Lieberman bill would create a national CO2 cap and trade program that would be highly injurious to coal-based electricity…Last week, we activated the Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC) citizen army to call targeted U.S. Senators, urging them to vote against this amendment. Through today, more than 6,000 citizen members have called or e-mailed their senators. Our most recent effort follows on the heels of last fall's citizen army activation, which generated more than 7,000 calls to target Senators in opposition to McCain-Lieberman. Joe Lucas, our Vice President's Communications, coordinates this ABEC activity."
When some states sought to win permission in the Supreme Court for EPA to act against GhGs under the authority of the Clean Air Act, ACCCE/CEED led the effort to prevent Attorneys General from other states from joining the fight.
From the memo: “…Our goal is straightforward: persuade states that voluntary sequestration activities and technology investments are appropriate policies to address climate change concerns, while government mandatory controls are not.”
Those “…voluntary sequestration activities and technology investments…” would bring money into the coal industry. Federal regulation, though judged by the Supreme Court to be mandated by the Clean Air Act, would only cost the industry money.
The memo describes coal industry-funded actions against national and regional efforts to control coal’s spew. Because coal’s mercury emissions are believed to cause illness in pregnant women and potential fetal neurological defects, the ACCCE strategy to waylay and weaken regulations on mercury emissions seem especially reprehensible and virtually criminal.
From the memo: “Our strategy in dealing with mercury has been two-fold: prevent states from taking precipitous or unwarranted action to regulate mercury and engage in the federal rulemaking to protect the interests of coal-based electricity.”
Now doubly exposed for lying to cover up the dangers of coal and exerting every effort against regulations to make coal safer, legal prosecution seems too good for these people.
From nyprogressive via YouTube.
Exposing the Myth of Clean Coal Power
Bryan Walsh, January 10, 2009 (Time Magazine)
Leaked Clean Coal Strategy Memo to Peabody Energy
Kevin Grandia, 16 January 2009 (DeSmogBlog)
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) (Steve Miller, CEO); Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); National Research Council; Peabody Energy (Irl F. Engelhardt, CEO)
The coal ash spill at Harriman, Tennessee, and the release of Coal Industry Strategy Letter to CEO of Peabody Energy, a memo describing the nefarious plotting of the coal industry PR organ, reveal further evils of coal-fired electricity generation.
From GilbertTMorgan viaYouTube.
- December 22, 2008: TVA’s Kingston plant coal ash spill.
- 2008: EPA’s report on ash toxicity.
- 2006: National Research Council report on ash toxicity.
- 2004: Memo from ACCCE detailing its strategy to create the meme of “clean” coal.
- 2003 and 2004: Coal industry-funded, ACCCE/CEED supervised research suggested GhG controls are costly and ineffective. (Surprise!)
The coal ash spill was in from the Kingston coal plant near Harriman in northeastern Tennessee. Since that spill, there have also been significant spills in Alabama and Tennessee.
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- Coal-fired power generates ~30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (GhGs).
- Aside from GhGs, coal-fired power generation has has serious impacts on human health, especially on people who live near big plants.
- 1.1 billion gallons of water mixed with toxic coal ash broke through a dike and washed over hundreds of acres of land, destroying several houses and leaving 100 times more waste (containing potentially dangerous levels of toxic metals like arsenic and mercury) than the Exxon Valdez disaster and leaving 5.4 million+ cubic yards of coal ash covering much of the Harriman region.
- ACCCE/CEED was behind bogus research suggesting efforts to control GhGs would be ineffective and economically detrimental.
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- Steven Smith, executive director, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy: "[The spill] is an environmental catastrophe that reveals not only the dangers of burning coal and mismanaging coal combustion waste, but also the need for federal regulation…"
Smith, paraphrased by Walsh: “After Kingston, coal may be considered many things — but it's hard to see how "clean" could be one of them.”
- From the ACCCE/CEED memo to the Peabody coal company: "More than a year ago, New York Governor Pataki proposed an eleven-state regional CO2 cap and trade program. CEED has been engaged in this effort from its beginning. Persuading Pennsylvania and Maryland (as major coal-consuming states) to stay on the sidelines, rather than signing onto this initiative, has been one element of our strategy. The other element is to pose voluntary sequestration and technology as the correct policy, rather than mandatory controls."