Who's Demanding an End to Coal Power?


During Wednesday night’s Democratic debate in Las Vegas, John Edwards took his strongest stand yet against dirty coal power. In a moment of political transcendence, Edwards took a question about Yucca Mountain NIMBYism and turned it into a talking point about national energy and climate policy, earning kudos from Grist and us.

I believe we need a moratorium on the building of any more coal-fired power plants unless and until we have the ability to capture and sequester the carbon in the ground. Because every time we build a new coal-fired power plant in America when we don’t have that technology attached to it, what happens is, we’re making a terrible situation worse.

Coal, that huge and dirty business that powers half of America’s homes, is finding itself with more and more high-profile enemies. Proposals for coal power plants are being blocked all over the country, and the political rhetoric against coal is heating up — Edwards’ is just the most recent in a series of regicidal damnations of King Coal.

Last week Dr. James Hansen, a leading scientist focused on global climate change, spoke at a media briefing organized by the clean energy group RE-AMP. Hansen said he saw the closings of and cancellations of plans for coal plants as a sign that it’s “beginning to sink in that [the plants are] probably not a wise financial move.” He also accused federal foot-dragging of keeping clean coal research from moving forward:

In most cases where utilities are saying they will have the capability in the future to capture the CO2, they’re really just saying that in order to get approval, without really intending to do that. If they would sign a guarantee that they are going to start capturing it within five years that would make it a different story. But they are not offering to do that.

Robert Kennedy Jr., environmental lawyer of American royalty fame, wrote an enraged blog post for “The Huffington Post” following the GOP CNN/YouTube debates in November. The debates were sponsored by “Clean Coal,” a move that infuriated Kennedy and prompted him to try to disambiguate the “cleanliness” of coal.

In fact, there is no such thing as “clean coal.” And coal is only “cheap” if one ignores its calamitous externalized costs. In addition to global warming, these include dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates.

All of these attacks pale in comparison to the Floridian governor’s “crusade against coal,” which some think prompted the coal industry group to sponsor the GOP CNN/YouTube debate, which was held in Ft. Lauderdale. Gov. Charlie Crist, a Pennsylvania-born Republican, has made climate change a top priority, noting that he is “not a fan” of coal — “just to put it lightly.”

Crist worked hard to block the building of a coal power plant next to the Everglades and when he publicly announced the proposal’s demise he added a warning for other potential coal proposals: “It’s not looking good.” Crist stresses, however, that he isn’t closing the door on coal, and like Edwards, would wholeheartedly endorse using American coal if we develop the science to completely capture and sequester the emissions.

So while all of this drum beating might be scaring King Coal, the “clean coal startups”, like GreatPoint Energy, PowerSpan, and Skyonic, should be working overtime to get their technologies to market.



Green energy is definitely the best solution in most cases. Technology like solar energy, wind power, fuel cells, zaps electric vehicles, EV hybrids, etc have come so far recently. Green energy even costs way less than oil and gas in many cases.

Rory Gawler

Being as I am in Australia, it is interesting to note that almost all of the electricity here is generated by burning coal, despite AMPLE solar and wind sites, almost a third of world-wide uranium and the best potential for geothermal of any major country.

If any countries are going to start turning to carbon reduced power, the US must lead the way.

The next elected president, I feel, will be the turning point…. they will decide whether the world will pull up its socks and do something about climate change. It could be very exciting… or very dissappointing.


I think its important to keep in mind what the democratic candidates are saying about life after coal. I was the most impressed in Wednesday’s debates (1.16.08) with Clinton’s commitment to investing ($50B) in research for clean energy technology, which will surely be necessary if we are going to ever look beyond coal.


But what did Edwards say about nuclear power? If not nuclear and not coal, then what?

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