Coal-Fired Power Plants: Big Loser On November 4th?

President-Elect Barack Obama may never have said that he planned to "bankrupt" the coal industry.   But that doesn't mean that he intends to let coal-fired power plants--one of the main causes of global warming--off the hook. 

In fact, Obama energy advisor Jason Grumet told Bloomberg in mid-October that "Barack Obama will classify carbon dioxide as a dangerous pollutant that can be regulated should he win the presidential election on Nov. 4, opening the way for new rules on greenhouse gas emissions."  According to the article, Obama "may use the 1990 Clean Air Act to set emissions limits on power plants and manufacturers ... President George W. Bush declined to curb CO2 emissions under the law even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the government may do so."

That's why it was amusing on Election Day to hear of the latest PR stunt from our friends at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE). 

ACCCE Honcho Joe Lucas put out a November 4th news release that reads as follows:  "Today is Election Day and whichever candidate is elected, he will have a mandate to adopt policies that secure America's energy future using our most abundant energy resource - coal. 'If 'support for the use of coal for generating electricity' were on the ballot today, it would win by a landslide' ..." (emphasis in the original)

Other than the obvious reason for slicing and dicing of respondents until ACCCE found a group that would agree with them, we're not clear on why the "national" survey is limited to just 600 "elites" - are they back in favor now? -- defined as "adults with $80,000 or more in household income and a four-year college degree or more and a professional or managerial job title or a business owner and a high degree of involvement in politics and policy matters."   

Didn't we just have an election that made a pretty good case for a more inclusive approach to decision making

And since no one has suggested that coal is going away next week, we're not sure what Lucas thinks this means when he writes in the ACCCE release:  "The poll shows that Americans are very optimistic about the future for coal. When asked the question 'do you believe coal is a fuel for America's future?' -- 69% of Americans agreed (compared to only 26% who disagreed)."

No doubt coal will still be around in 2009. But just look at what happens when you ask Americans what they really think about dirty coal power plants.  Consider these findings of a September 2008 survey by the Civil Society Institute/Opinion Research Corporation of 1,000 U.S. adults - including all of us no-account non-elites!:

  • Most Americans want the next President and Congress to achieve energy independence by relying on clean energy sources, rather than coal, oil and nuclear power plants. When asked what the new President and Congress should make "their number one energy-related priority for the nation" in 2009, about three out of five (59 percent) favor "promoting energy sources such as wind or solar, more conservation of energy, and hybrid or other highly fuel-efficient cars," compared to only about one in four (26 percent) who want a focus on "promoting energy sources such as more coal-fired power plants, oil from offshore drilling and nuclear power."


  • Americans pick clean energy over coal and nuclear power. Two out of three Americans would ask for wind, solar and other renewable energy technologies if they could "tell your power or utility company where to get the power to run your house." By contrast, only 8 percent would pick nuclear power and just three percent would pick "coal-generated power."


  • Wind and solar are seen as the future of energy for America. More than two out of three Americans now see coal (70 percent) and oil (67 percent) as the "power sources of yesterday." By contrast, solar and wind are seen as "power sources of tomorrow" by 92 percent and 88 percent of Americans, respectively.


If that all rings true to you, there's a good reason:  It's a picture of reality.   It's not some survey cooked up with loaded questions and a hand-picked audience guaranteed to deliver the results sought by the industry that paid for the ACCCE poll. 


I'm not alone in thinking that the Joe Lucas survey results are suspect.  As ThinkProgress pointed out this week:

"... all the PR spin in the world can't affect scientific reality. America's coal plants produce about 49 percent of U.S. electricity but account for 83 percent of power-sector emissions. And we need to reduce net emissions to zero as fast as humanly possible to preserve our civilization from catastrophic global warming ... No matter what actions Washington D.C. takes, the 80,000 people in the coal mining industry - 0.02% of the U.S. population - should be taken care of. These workers deserve better than they are getting today, as the union-busting coal barons ignore safety regulations and cut benefits. But make no mistake - the burning of coal is burning up the planet ... The saddest thing about the ACCCE campaign is not its facile dishonesty, but that we continue to have a political discourse that places more weight on perception than reality."