Steven Chu, Presdent-elect Obama's choice to head the U.S. Department of Energy, faced the Senate yesterday at his nomination hearing. By all accounts, Dr. Chu is a brilliant scientist (and Nobel Prize-winning physicist!), who appears committed to pursuing national policy that will help the U.S. achieve greater energy independence and address global warming by advancing clean, renewable technologies.
In other words, he's certainly not a run-of-the-mill fossil fool.
Chu did take some heat at the hearing from some pro-industry Senators for his comments last year that coal is "my worst nightmare." He explained that "if the world continues to use coal in the way we're using it today . . . that's a pretty bad dream."
Well, he's dead right about that. Chu recognizes that coal, which provides a significant chunk of our electricity today, will still be around for a while unfortunately. But he certainly understands that the climate crisis precludes this fuel of the past from providing our predominant power source for the future. That's why he and the Obama administration support investments in clean, renewable energy sources like solar, wind and geothermal that will also generate green jobs.
It's disappointing though not surprising that the coal industry is resistant to change -- be it climate or otherwise. Most outrageous is the industry's blatant propaganda perpetuating the myth of clean coal. Just today, while reading the newspaper, I was assaulted by this advertisement.
Despite what industry would have people believe, coal is not cheap -- and neither are full-page advertisements in national publications like The Washington Post. Setting aside the tone deaf persistence of Big Coal's PR flunkies, who keep trying in vain to re-brand dirty coal lumps as cute, you gotta love the unintended irony of the ad's tag-line: "Coal Can Do That."
Know what else coal can do? Well, each year smokestack pollution from U.S. coal-fired power plants can (and does):
- shorten the lives of nearly 24,000 Americans
- cause 38,200 non-fatal heart attacks
- inflict asthma attacks, cardiac problems and respiratory ailments on hundreds of thousands of Americans
- lead to tens of thousands of emergency room visits, hospitalizations and lost work days
And let's not forget the health risks and environmental devastation associated with coal -- from cradle to grave -- whether it be toxic coal ash pollution or mountaintop removal mining or global warming...to name just a few.
Of course, those inconvenient truths are the very reason why Peabody and other coal companies are spending so much money these days to misleadingly market their product as anything but dirty or dangerous.
Yes indeed, the past couple of months in particular have delivered big problems for the industry. When you think about it, coal is its own worst nightmare. (Psst! More irony for you, coal dudes.)