While trying to lock in crucial coal-belt swing states, Obama has had to refute another off-the-cuff comment from his running mate and assure coal-loving swing voters the he is, in fact, their friend. When asked why he supports clean coal, Biden said: “We’re not supporting clean coal.” Except he and his running mate are supporting clean coal. Oops. While Biden was against clean coal during the primaries, the Democratic nominee has included clean coal in his broad energy plan throughout the campaign.
Though McCain hopes this gaffe might distract the coal-belt battle grounds in the next few weeks, looking back at Obama’s record shows him to be a big supporter of some of the more controversial clean-coal technologies. The junior Senator from Illinois introduced the Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007 with Kentucky Senator Jim Bunning, and he recruited the Senators of coal-rich Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming as sponsors.
“Senator Obama truly is a friend of the coal industry,” Rick Boucher, a Democratic congressman from Virginia’s coal country, said, the Guardian reports. “His record … and his position in terms of the coal industry’s future give us confidence.” This has been a sticking point for many environmentalists behind Obama who claim clean coal is a pipe dream. NASA climatologist James Hansen has said clean coal technology is at least a decade away from being commercially viable.
But no matter how you cut it, coal power isn’t going away, and demands is only going to increase in the short run. Although banks and the Feds have cut funding for new coal-fired plants, energy experts expect existing coal plants to operate for longer hours to meet growing energy demands.
While renewables will play a bigger role in the energy mix, there are still only a handful of clean energy projects that match the scale of a single coal-fired power plant. About 25 percent of the nation’s planned new power capacity intends to burn coal, according to the most recent Electric Power Annual report.
The Senate just voted to put $1.4 billion over 10 years into carbon capture and sequestration demonstrations projects for advanced coal plants. The bill also extended the production tax credit, which helps wind energy but also covers electricity from “refined coal” projects, though the bill also tightens the emissions standards on such projects. Neither Obama, McCain nor Biden voted on this bill.