The New Reality for Dirty Coal

This morning I dropped by the local studio of Pacifica radio station (WPFW 89.3FM) to be interviewed on the show EarthbeatRadio about the coal industry's cynical and dishonest "smokestack and mirrors" advertising, aimed at convincing (or at least confusing) people about so-called clean coal.  (Take a listen here.)  

The host of the show, Mike Tidwell, and I had fun poking fun at the infamous Coal Carolers and talking up the Reality Coalition's own recently launched newspaper and television ads countering Big Coal's big lies.  You see, in reality coal is not clean -- that's the dirty truth. 

Here's a sneak peek at the newest Reality TV ad: "Smudge".


In addition to the TV ads, Reality has unveiled a clever print campaign poking fun at the myth of "clean coal."  Appropriately enough, the ads feature various mythical creatures.  Subtle, it's not; funny, it is.

The fact is, much of our electricity today comes from burning coal.  Whether we like it or not, coal is going to be around for a while.  NRDC believes it makes sense to develop and deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at power plants to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.  But even with CCS, power generated by fossil fuels will never be as healthy, safe or secure as energy powered by wind, solar or other clean, renewable alternatives.

The coal industry is spending obscene gobs of money to fool people with its advertising.  Consider Big Coal's biggest booster, a well-funded front group that goes by the misleading moniker American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).  This group's list of supporters reads like a directory of the dirtiest coal and utility companies.  This year alone ACCCE spent some $45 million on advertising to convince Americans that "clean coal" is the solution to the climate crisis, according to an analysis by the Center for American Progress.   We're talking TV and newspaper ads, billboards, websites, online advertising -- you name it.  At the same time, the fossil fool industries represented by ACCCE spent over $125 million combined in the first nine months of 2008 to lobby Congress to delay global warming pollution reductions until carbon capture technology is ready.

All this dirty money can't hide the truth -- coal as it's used today is the dirtiest climate-killing fuel on earth.  That's why NRDC has partnered with Al Gore's Alliance and other groups on the Reality campaign -- to challenge the coal industry to come clean in both its own ads and especially in its operations.

The Reality ads put the burden of proof back on Big Coal -- their ads falsely imply that clean coal already exists or is near at hand.  In reality, the industry is simply pushing dirty power plants, on the premise that some day they can be clean.  (Even the coal industry admits carbon-capture technology is at least 10-20 years away.)  Our ads are also meant to pressure the industry to stop blocking real progress on solutions to the biggest environmental crisis of our lifetimes -- climate change.  Learn more about our project at

While our effort pales in comparison to the coal industry's massive expenditures, we think the Reality campaign will effectively inform people (and especially our elected officials) that it's time to move away from dirty fuels to a cleaner, more secure energy future -- one that will create jobs, boost our economy and finally confront global warming.

The bottom-line:  Burning coal is one of the leading sources of global warming pollution -- and we should not build another coal plant that can't capture that pollution.

Big Coal better get ready to take some lumps from a little reality.