Column: Clean Coal: A Down And Dirty Affair

This story was written by Matt Dernoga, The Diamondback

I was very disappointed with vice presidential candidates Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., and Gov. Sarah Palin, R-Alaska, when they were asked about "clean coal" in their debate last week. Both candidates voiced their support for clean coal, and Biden even denied he had ever stated there was no such thing as "clean coal." Neither of these responses startled me. Both presidential candidates Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., have repeatedly talked about "clean coal" at their rallies as part of their energy plans.

Can anyone actually explain what "clean coal" is? No, because it's an oxymoron, with an emphasis on the moron part. It would be like me trying to convince you there's such as thing as clean dirt. There's currently no such thing as "clean coal." Nada. Of course, if I spent $35 million on advertisements, I might be able to convince you that clean dirt exists. A group backed by the coal industry has spent $35 million so far this year on advertisements talking about how coal-fired power plants can be clean. It's working: The candidates have been walking along like dogs on a leash, beholden to promoting a falsehood to further their careers. Politicians saying anything and everything to get elected? I know, you're shocked.

I know a few of you are laughing at me, saying, "But Matt, there is such a thing as clean coal; it's where coal-fired power plants capture their carbon emissions and store them underground." You got me. Except we don't have the technology to do Carbon Capture and Storage. In fact, the Department of Energy isn't expecting to have a successful demonstration of CSS until at least a decade from now. We're probably going to put a man on Mars before we even have the technology for "clean coal." Even then, the coal won't be clean. The department's goal is to cut its emissions by 90 percent.

So the earliest time we could ever have our "clean coal" is in about a decade. The only problem (OK, there are many problems) is the CSS technology is expected to make coal power cost 78 percent more than conventional coal-fired plants. So "clean coal" won't be even close to cost competitive against any of our sources of energy. No one will buy it; that's the beautiful thing about the free market. So if no one is going to buy the "clean coal," then why is the government wasting $1.3 billion trying to develop it? It would be more productive to burn that money and use the heat to power Obama's teleprompter.

We're spending money to develop CSS because the majority of Americans are repulsed by the carnage burning coal wreaks on our communities and our planet. The coal industry knows it. They know if they can't convince us that they can burn it cleanly, their days are numbered. If politicians were more concerned about serving the public interest, rather than the special interests, they would come clean about coal. If they can't, we should clean them out.