"The coal industry and the carbon industry in general are the largest contributors to the political process," he said. "So, you know, you have politicians who have essentially become indentured servants to these, and adopt the talking points of these industries."
(ABC News has been criticized for suggesting in the opening of its story on the interview that Kennedy directly called Mr. Obama an "indentured servant." He did not do so, though he did include the president – whom he calls a "great man" – with other politicians who "feel the need to parrot the talking points of this industry that is so destructive to our country.")
"Clean coal" is a somewhat vague term; as Slate pointed out in October, the coal industry defines it as "any technology to reduce pollutants associated with the burning of coal that was not in widespread use" before regulations were put in place in 1990. (Notes Slate: "By that definition, the group can call any newer coal-based power plant clean.")
More broadly, "clean coal" refers to coal that can be produced more cleanly because the carbon dioxide created in the process, which contributes to global warming, can be captured and stored in the earth. Critics dub the idea a "fantasy" designed to prolong the country's usage of coal at the behest of the industry.
"Never was there an oxymoron more insidious, or more dangerous to our public health [than clean coal]," wrote Jeff Biggers in the Washington Post last month. "Invoked as often by the Democratic presidential candidates as by the Republicans and by liberals and conservatives alike, this slogan has blindsided any meaningful progress toward a sustainable energy policy."
As ABC News notes, the president proposed spending $3.4 billion in stimulus dollars on "clean coal" projects; the coal industry is using Mr. Obama in an ad promoting "clean coal" in which the president says "you can't tell me we can't figure out a way to burn coal that we mine right here in the United States and make it work."
Clean coal plants around the country have been abandoned in recent years thanks to a lack of success. Coal presently provides roughly half the nation's electricity.
Kennedy blamed the influence of industry donations and lobbying for the endurance of the "clean coal" movement.
"You don't have politicians representing the American public, but rather the people who finance their campaigns," he said. "And that's the coal industry and the oil industry, who are the primary funders."