How Clean Coal Became Kleen Koal


Dear America,

We can’t believe you took us so seriously.

All these years now, we’ve filled your family rooms with TV ads about “Clean Coal.” We paid many millions for all that PR – what some people are now scandalously calling “propaganda.” We sponsored presidential debates laced with cheery ads about patriotism, energy security, and – of course – Clean Coal. We got candidates from both parties – even Obama! – to sing the praises of Clean Coal. We gave millions to coal-friendly politicians. And they gave us billions of your tax dollars into projects to develop Clean Coal carbon-storage technology.

clean-coal-greenwash2Didn’t our promises make you feel good? Weren’t you proud? Wasn’t it great imagining that we had so much energy right here in America, and that it was – in some vague sense – clean?

But now, look what you’ve done. Somehow, you’ve imagined that we could really make our coal – you know – clean. Actually clean. Clean like maybe about twice as dirty as natural gas. Clean like infinitely dirtier than wind and solar. Not TV-ad clean, but clean – sort of – like what-you-breathe clean.

Sure, we told you we had the technology to make coal clean. We even ran ads featuring scantily-clad models as coal miners extracting coal that technology had made “beautiful.” 

And we swore to you how fervently we believed in Clean Coal. Our ads assured you that we believed in “protecting the environment.” We believed that “with new technology, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” We believed “that meeting a challenge brings out the best in us.” We told you over and over that we believed “we will do this.”

WE WILL DO THIS, we repeated the promise, over dramatic background music.
Now, you actually want us to do this? You want us to reduce the earth-warming carbon emissions from future coal power plants to no more than 1,100 lbs. of CO2 per megawatt of electricity? Granted, that’s still way more than natural gas plants emit today. But don’t you know that our best new plants dump more than 1,800 lbs. of carbon per megawatt into the air today? And don’t you know that our existing coal plants are more than twice as dirty as your new standard?

Look, it’s hard work making people swallow the “clean-coal” stuff in the first place. You probably can’t imagine how hard. Our Clean Coal is pitch black. We destroy entire mountains to get at it. In the process, heavy metals wash off into streams, killing wildlife and contaminating drinking water. Burning the stuff releases all kinds of toxins, including nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide and mercury which is incredibly toxic to unborn children. And it’s right up there with tar sands oil in earth-warming gas pollution.

But we’re resourceful. We came up with the deliciously Orwellian idea: Coal is clean! We’ll call it Clean Coal! Who would have thought it would fly? We linked it to patriotism. We linked it to American security. Heck, we even linked it to your children’s future (THAT was a tough one, believe me!).

And you bought it! Nowadays, we just use the words – “Clean Coal” – without mentioning any of those silly promises about actually being clean in the ordinary sense of the word. But it seems you haven’t all forgotten that ordinary sense. And now you want us to make Clean Coal “clean?” Really?

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you like this, but it can’t be done. There, I’ve said it. I feel so much better now.

Carbon can’t be safely removed from Kleen Koal. (Of course, we’ve had to rename it now that we’ve made this admission.)  Sure, carbon’s been removed and stored in demonstration plants, but not real utility-scale power plants. Of course, we’ve never had a reason to actually spend our own money to develop the technology, because carbon pollution is free, and we can dump as much of it into your air as we please. But since we’ve hardly tried, you can assume it can’t be done.

And – believe me, I feel your pain – because it can’t be done using proven technology, you can’t force us to stop dumping the pollution. You see, unless you pay billions and billions more to develop the technology at utility scale, then you can’t force us to stop polluting. Kleen Koal can’t be cleaned, so we’re free to dump as much of it as we like into the air that that governs the planet’s ecosystems.

Next time we make promises, please try not to take them so literally. From now on, let’s just be friends. We hope you enjoy our upcoming ad campaign. It’ll be about patriotism, family values, small businesses, and freedom.

And just remember, Kleen Koal is America’s Power.

2 thoughts on “How Clean Coal Became Kleen Koal

  1. Pingback: Cheery Energy Ads? Look Out! | BelovedPlanet

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