No Country for “Clean Coal?”

An activist group led by the Alliance for Climate Protection has crafted another national TV ad aimed at debunking “the clean coal myth,” this one directed by Hollywood legends Joel & Ethan Coen (directors of No Country for Old Men, in case you’re still puzzling over my obscure headline).

Produced by The Reality Coalition, the ad depicts a pitchman touting a fictional product called “Clean Coal” air freshener. He’s inter-cut with shots of a family spraying what looks like coal dust out of an aerosol can and coughing. The spot ends with the coalition’s stock text message: “In reality, there is no such thing as ‘clean coal.'” The best line in the mock ad, though, is when the pitchman explains that the product “harnesses the awesome power of the word ‘clean,'” the implication being that saying something is clean doesn’t make it so.

Former Vice President Al Gore has been on the stump for some time, carrying the same message; that clean-coal technology “doesn’t exist.” Reality Coalition spokesman Brian Hardwick goes farther than that. He claims that not only does it not exist but the industry isn’t doing much to make it reality. A separate analysis by the Center for American Progress pegged the research commitment by U.S. coal companies to carbon capture technology at about $3.5 billion “over several years,” compared to combined profits of $57 billion in just one year (2007).

The clean-coal debate is relevant to Californians. Mostly through imported power, coal provides more than 16% of the electricity we use. And as I mentioned in my radio segment for The California Report, China is counting on the U-S to develop technology to allow them to burn coal “cleanly.”

While clever, the ad does kind of miss the climate connection. It seems to be aimed at particulate pollution rather than the unseen emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Hardwick responded to that critique by saying that “Truly clean coal would have to mitigate all the (environmental) issues” involved in burning the fuel. Still, it’s a source of potential confusion for viewers unclear about the distinctions among greenhouse gases, ozone-depleting gases and local air quality issues.

No Country for “Clean Coal?” 26 February,2009Craig Miller

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Craig Miller

Craig is KQED's science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to his current position, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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