It's Still a Dirty Business: McCain v. Obama on Clean Coal


photo: David Katz/Obama For America

Barack Obama on Clean Coal


In his official campaign materials Barack Obama sets clean coal immediately after developing more renewable energy and before more nuclear. As I’ve said all along, the main differences between the Obama and McCain energy policies isn’t what’s being advocated but the order in which they should be implemented. This is the Obama clean coal position:

Incentives to Stimulate ‘Zero-Carbon Coal Facilities’

Carbon capture and storage technologies hold enormous potential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as we power our economy with domestically produced and secure energy. As a U.S. Senator, Obama has worked tirelessly to ensure that clean coal technology becomes commercialized. An Obama administration will provide incentives to accelerate private sector investment in commercial scale zero‐carbon coal facilities. In order to maximize the speed with which we advance this critical technology, Barack Obama and Joe Biden will instruct DOE to enter into public private partnerships to develop five “first‐of‐a‐kind” commercial scale coal‐fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration. (New Energy For America)

On May 4th of this year on Meet the Press Obama was particularly enthusiastic about the potential of clean coal:

Can’t Dismiss Coal Out of Hand

My attitude when it comes to energy is there's no silver bullet. We've got to look at every possible option. [...] I have a aggressive goal of reducing carbon emissions, and coal is a dirty fuel right now. But if we can figure out how to sequester carbon and burn clean coal, we're the Saudi Arabia of coal, and I don't think that we can dismiss out of hand the use of coal as part of our energy mix. What we are going to have to understand, though, is that global warming is real, it is serious and that whatever options we come up with, if they are not addressing the fact that the planet is getting warmer, then we are failing not just this generation, but future generations.

In responding the League of Conservation Voters question on whether liquid coal and other unconventional fuels should be developed, Obama had this to say:

Coal & Environmentally Friendly in the Same Sentence...

It is a paramount priority to pursue policies that expand the use of clean renewable sources of energy. Nevertheless, coal is our nation’s most abundant fossil fuel, and if used in an environmentally friendly manner, it can help reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. (LCV)

Obama responded thusly to LCV’s question about requiring new power plants to capture and store carbon emissions:

Carbon Cap Would Halt Investment in Traditional Coal Facilities

I support cap and trade legislation to create the kind of carbon controlled economy where sequestration must be part of any design and construction of future coal fired power plants. I believe government functions best when it sets appropriate standards and allows the private sector to determine the most effective means of achieving these standards. Under the carbon cap legislation I favor, investment in traditional coal facilities would be ill-advised, and I would not grant any free emission permits to new coal facilities that do not sequester their emissions. Moreover, I would provide significant incentives to accelerate the transition to sustainable coal technologies that capture and sequester their carbon emissions. (LCV)

Biden’s Coal Position Different than Obama’s?
Unlike Sarah Palin, Joe Biden has spoken out prominently on the issue of clean coal. In fact some of recent statements but him at odds with the Obama-Biden official campaign position. Here’s what he said a little over a week ago in Ohio when questioned about clean coal:

The statement is actually somewhat confusing. He initially says that “We’re not supporting clean coal,” and then goes on to talk about China building dirty coal plants and that they’re going to “burn 300 years of bad coal unless we figure out to clean their coal up.” As a matter of fact, China has nowhere near 300 years of coal to burn, probably less than 100. But the end of his statement makes me wonder if we actually heard the original question, or simply misspoke in saying ‘clean coal’ at the beginning, when he meant traditional coal facilities.



As you can see, there really isn’t a difference between the candidates on this issue of clean coal. Both recognize that coal burning is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, and both think the way to reduce those emissions is through a combination of cap-and-trade and developing carbon capture and storage technologies. I won’t speculate on exactly how much of either candidate’s position has been developed to win votes in key states where opposition to coal would be the kiss of death, but for once I hope a little pandering is going on here and once either is elected, other energy sources will be prioritized.

So what’s wrong with ‘clean coal’?

Tags: 2008 Elections | Clean Coal | Coal | Electricity | Energy

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