Wake Up, Democrats: Send Dirty Coal Packing

"When party activists gathered in Chicago to nominate Bill Clinton to a second term in 1996, Mr. Obama was making his first run for political office, but he did not have enough clout to get full access to the convention. Instead, he concluded that high-dollar breakfasts and dinners seemed to lock voters out of the system, grousing to a reporter, "The convention's for sale, right?" New York Times, August 27th, 2008.

Dirty Coal certainly thinks the Democratic convention is for sale.

In one of the creepiest displays of propaganda this week in Denver, lighting up billboards and shuttling ads around in vans, and handing out T-shirts, fans, hats and enough tote-bag goodies to send Santa Claus and his reindeer back to the melting North Pole, the coal industry's front group--American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity--is spending nearly $2 million to ingratiate themselves among Democratic Party members. (They'll do the same with the Republicans next week.)

In truth, this "Clean Coal" charade has more to do with another convention, back in the cold winter of 1992. The National Coal Council held a conference to come to grips with a disturbing marketing reality: "Coal has a dismal image." Coal was "maligned and misunderstood." Worse yet, according to the Coal Council, "Most Americans do not think about coal at all."

The convention of coal companies grappled with these popular images: Air pollution and visibility, mine safety and labor regulations, unregulated strip mining, local apprehension, global warming, acid rain, soot and particulates, acid mine drainage and abandoned mines and more subsidence, the dreaded images of coal-draped Eastern Europe, and an unfair media. Coal was destined to play the villain unless "effective actions are taken to alter the public's perception of coal."

What to do? Welcome back to "Clean Coal."

Dirty Coal has been peddling their "clean coal" propaganda for over a century. Coal companies ran ads as early as 1907 in newspapers in Obama's adopted state of Illinois for smoke-free "clean coal" to burn in your stove or furnace. Former Illinois Governor Dan Walker touted illusory "Clean Coal" ideas during the OPEC crisis in the 1970s.

Sixteen years after that fateful coal convention, not a day goes by that we don't hear or view an advertisement about "Clean Coal." Even a proposed coal-to-liquid gas plant in Kentucky, one of the most outrageous boondoggles and emission polluters in our times, has been renamed a "Clean Coal" project. While the nation's debut FutureGen "Clean Coal" plant in Mattoon, Illinois was scrapped by the Bush administration due to economic realities last year, the blur of TV ads financed by the coal lobby would make you think this has been the summer of "Clean Coal."

The Democrats would be wise to wake up to this century-old marketing campaign.

This latest version of "Clean Coal" lighting up the Denver screens is only a marketing slogan, a chimera of emission sequestration that no card-carrying scientist claims will be a reality for the next 20-30 years. And it's a crying shame some clean energy proponents and Democrats have attached dirty coal like meaningless bumper stickers to their bandwagons.

Crandall Canyon, Utah is only a six-hour drive away from Denver.

One year after the scandalous Crandall Canyon mining disaster in Utah, the truth is that dirty coal is still extracted, stripmined, trucked, trained, processed, and burned in a daily violation of our environment and communities--and this is before it ever reaches an imaginary "clean coal" plant.

Across the country, residents outraged by coal slurry impoundments have even been forced to file suits in court to protect their groundwater.

"How long can the earth sustain life," wondered the Chicago Daily Tribune in 1892, if we depend on the "wonderful power of coal?" The Chicago editors lambasted Americans for our lack of vision and sense of energy conservation, and our need to "invent appliances to exhaust with over greater rapidity the hoard of coal." They declared:

"Doubtless the end of the coal, at least as an article of a mighty commerce, will arrive within a period brief in comparison with the ages of human existence. In the history of humanity, from first to last, the few centuries through which we are now passing will stand out prominently as the coal-burning period."

Understanding the meaning of nonrenewable fossil fuels, those Chicago editors didn't believe in "Clean Coal" in 1892. They probably assumed our nation would have naturally progressed onto other renewable energy sources, like "Clean Solar" or "Clean Wind".

Like true clean energy proponents in Denver this week, they certainly would have sent Dirty Coal packing today.

Cross-posted on Huffington Post.