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

german carbon capture and storage pilot project plant photo

photo: Vattenfall

Writing this comparison less that a week after former Vice-President Al Gore called for civil disobedience to prevent the construction of new coal power plants which don't included carbon capture and storage is somehow a little eerie.* Also, considering the extensive posts done on TreeHugger about how there really isn't such a thing as clean coal, it feels odd to type this up. But as both Barack Obama and John McCain have consistently expressed support for 'clean coal', it is useful to examine the differences in their rhetoric. If there's one issue which irks me more than any other in both their campaigns, it's this one. So, without any more ado, John McCain and Barack Obama on clean coal:

john mccain photo

photo: Tom LeGro/NewsHour

John McCain on Clean Coal

Last week I wrote about John McCain's enthusiasm for nuclear power, prioritizing it and offshore oil drilling above promoting renewable energy. Well, in his official campaign literature clean coal comes above nuclear power. Considering that in general McCain talks up nuclear above clean coal this may just be an issue of formatting, but here it is:

$2 Billion For Clean Coal Technologies

John McCain will commit $2 billion annually to advancing clean coal technologies. Coal produces the majority of our electricity today. Some believe that marketing viable clean coal technologies could be over 15 years away. John McCain believes that this is too long to wait, and we need to commit significant federal resources to the science, research and development that advance this critical technology. Once commercialized, the U.S. can then export these technologies to countries like China that are committed to using their coal - creating new American jobs and allowing the U.S. to play a greater role in the international green economy. (McCain Palin 2008)

When the League of Conservation Voters asked McCain whether he would support investment in unconventional fuels, such as liquid coal, which could increase greenhouse gas emissions he responded that under a carbon cap-and-trade system such as he favors the market would determine if liquid coal was financially viable and then added,

Carbon Capture Must Succeed for Coal to Liquids to be Viable

I do believe, however, that carbon capture and pollution control technology will continue to advance, and must succeed if coal to liquid fuels are to be viable. It must be a national mission to develop a catalyst capable of breaking down carbon dioxide into useful chemical building blocks, and render it a new source of revenue and opportunity. Doing so will enable us to take advantage of our most abundant energy sources while meeting our clean air and climate stewardship obligations. (LCV)

The LCV also asked McCain if he would support legislation which would require new power plants to capture and store carbon emissions. This is his response:

New Coal Plants Must be Carbon "Capture-Ready"

I support a national greenhouse gas emission cap and trade regimen that includes responsible emission limits and allows market forces to determine how best to meet them. Such a regimen will provide a decisive economic incentive for power producers to maximize the capture of carbon emissions. Clearly, a utility that builds a new coal plant without factoring in the inevitable curbs on carbon emissions necessary to combat climate change or the market opportunities of limiting such emissions would be doing a disservice both to their customers and stockholders. Accordingly, I believe that new coal plants should be constructed in a manner that is capture-ready, and can accommodate the retrofit of this technology as it advances. (LCV)

Palin Toes the Line on Clean Coal
Other than some passing mention of clean coal in her vice-presidential nomination acceptance speech, Sarah Palin has not expressed the same level of support as she has for offshore oil drilling and drilling in ANWR. At least in this part of McCain-Palin energy policy it doesn't seem that Palin will add much to the debate other than supporting the official position on clean coal.

The best thing I can say about John McCain and clean coal is that he does recognize that building new coal plants will dramatically increase the United States' already climbing emissions. Skip to page 3 for why McCain's faith in new technology doesn't mean 'clean coal' is any more viable, or read on for Barack Obama on clean coal:

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