Is Clean Coal Actually Clean? The Coen Brothers Weigh In

The Oscar-winning Coen Brothers recently produced this ad, ridiculing the term “clean coal.” It’s amusing, but doesn’t give much substantive critique. In reality, the coal industry has done much to clean up its nitrogen and sulphur emissions, which our big acid rain problem in the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. Emissions of these pollutants are down 70 per cent, which is what the coal industry means when it says the fuel is “70 per cent cleaner.” The industry hasn’t done much to lessen its carbon emissions to date, mostly because the technology isn’t there yet. Perhaps in the future, the excess CO2 will be separated into carbon and oxygen, or piped underground (both options currently being researched), but the technology is going to need decades of research and massive investment. Plans to build the US’s first CO2 storage coal-fired plant were abandoned last year, as the $1.8 billion FutureGen project in eastern Illinois ran into serious cost overruns. Coal is considered so bad for global warming that even nuclear power, once derided by the greenies, is now considered cleaner than the fossil fuel. Nuclear energy has its problems, with storage of waste and security issues, according to Steven Chu, the Nobel-prize winning new energy secretary. Yet “the safety is better and will continue to get better, and nuclear power is far better for climate than coal.”

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