Last updated on: 3/24/2009 | Author:

Should the US Use “Clean Coal” as an Energy Source?

PRO (yes)


The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity stated the following in its article “Commitment to Clean,” available at its website (accessed Mar. 13, 2009):

“Thanks to an abundance of coal, combined with American ingenuity and advanced technologies, we don’t have to choose between affordable energy and improved air quality.

That’s right – electricity from coal is getting even cleaner everyday.

There has never been an environmental challenge facing the coal-based electricity sector for which technology has not provided the ultimate solution. Even as the use of coal for generating electricity has nearly tripled over the past 30 years, emissions from coal-based power plants have been dramatically reduced through the use of advanced technologies. Today’s coal-based electricity generating fleet is 70% cleaner than it was in 1970 (based upon emissions per unit of energy produced)…

The industry has committed itself to even further emissions reductions to eliminate virtually all emissions of pollutants regulated under federal and state clean air laws.

The key environmental question facing the coal-based electricity sector is whether coal can remain a viable part of our energy future even as the U.S. and the world implement programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the energy sector. Technology experts agree, that we’ll meet this challenge, and that coal will remain a low-cost energy option in the future even considering the cost of new technologies to capture and store CO2 – a common greenhouse gas.”

Mar. 13, 2009 - American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity


The United States Department of Energy Office of Clean Coal stated the following in its Sep. 2006 publication “Office of Clean Coal Strategic Plan: Moving America Towards an Affordable ‘Zero Emissions’ Coal Energy Option,” available at its website:

“Imagine a future in which power from our most abundant and lowest cost energy resource is pollution-free. Imagine a future in which we no longer have concerns about the effects power and fuels production will have on the global climate of our children or their children. Imagine a future in which America’s energy security is strengthened by replacing increasing amounts of imported oil with clean-burning, affordable fuels made from plentiful resources within our borders.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) Clean Coal Program is working to make this future possible. For the first time in the long history of fossil fuel use, we now see emerging from our laboratories and test sites the tools and technologies that can make the concept of a virtually zero-emission (‘zero’ emissions), coal based energy plant a viable reality – not 50 or 100 years into the future – but within the coming decade.

The aim of ‘zero’ emissions coal is to remove all the environmental concerns (including carbon emissions) over the use of coal.”

Sep. 2006 - United States Department of Energy (DOE)


H. Sterling Burnett, PhD, Senior Fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), stated the following in his Jan. 2008 article “Power for the Future: The Debate Over New Coal-Fired Power Plants in Texas,” available at the Texas Public Policy Foundation website:

“Only one fuel presently meets the United State’s and Texas’ increasing demand for energy independence, low cost, reliability, and the ability to meed increasing demand in the short-time frame needed: coal… the U.S. has 27 percent of the world’s coal reserves, enough domestic reserves to meet demand for more than 250 years…

Fortunately, building new coal-fired power plants does not mean dirtier air and increased health risks…

The pace of technological improvement and change, combined with existing and increasingly stringent federal air pollution requirements, ensure that air pollution will substantially decrease in the next two decades – even as energy use in general and coal generated electricity in particular continue to increase…

How has the nation’s air quality improved despite the increasing use of coal to generate electricity? The short answer is older coal-fired power plants emitted 90 percent more pollution than new state-of-the-art plants.”

Jan. 2008 - H. Sterling Burnett, PhD


Bryan J. Hannegan, PhD, Vice President of Environment and Generation at the Electric Power Research Institute, stated the following in his Mar. 22, 2007 testimony, “Future of Coal,” for the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

“Coal currently provides over half of the electricity used in the United States, and most forecasts of future energy use in the United States show that coal will continue to have a dominant share in our electric power generation for the foreseeable future. Coal is a stably priced, affordable, domestic fuel that can be used in an environmentally responsible manner. Through development of advanced pollution control technologies and sensible regulatory programs, emissions of criteria air pollutants from new coal-fired power plants have been reduced by more than 90% over the past three decades. And by displacing otherwise needed imports of natural gas or fuel oil, coal helps address America’s energy security and reduces our trade deficit with respect to energy.”

Mar. 22, 2007 - Bryan J. Hannegan, PhD


Robert Byrd, US Senator (D-WV), stated the following in a Jan. 27, 2009 press release titled “Byrd Announces Billions for Coal in Senate Stimulus Bill,” available at his website:

“Clean, carbon-neutral coal can be a ‘green’ energy… As Congress strives to develop a national energy policy that will break our dependence on foreign oil, it is crucial to ensure that coal, burned in cleaner more efficient ways, is part of our nation’s diverse energy mix for the future. These investments [$4.6 billion for coal projects] will help to bolster West Virginia’s economic future…

As I have said time and time again, the nation must invest in energy resources here at home. Today I was proud to support this stimulus legislation that will help to ensure employment for the hard-working men and women in the coal fields.”

Jan. 27, 2009 - Robert C. Byrd, JD

CON (no)


Frances Beinecke, MA, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council, stated the following in her Feb. 27, 2009 article “Debunking the Myth of Clean Coal,” available at the onEarth website:

“Following the example of Big Tobacco, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry-funded group, is spending $45 million on advertising in an attempt to convince the American public that coal power is good for the environment. But no matter how much the industry spends on PR wizardry, it can’t turn myth into reality. Saying coal is clean is like talking about healthy cigarettes. There is no such thing as clean coal…

Every single step in the coal-power cycle is dirty, beginning with extraction. The method of mountaintop-removal mining involves literally blowing off the tops of mountains and dumping the debris into valleys below. More than 700 miles of Appalachian mountain streams have been buried under the resultant waste. Meanwhile, communities must endure continuous explosions, damaged water supplies, and mine operations as close as 300 feet from homes and schools. Pollution from coal-fired plants is not only the biggest contributor to global warming, but it also contributes to 24,000 deaths a year in the United States. Even after it’s burned, coal leaves a hazardous legacy. In December the nation witnessed just how dangerous coal ash waste can be when a massive spill at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Tennessee flooded more than 400 acres with 1 billion gallons of cancer-causing sludge. There are 1,300 similar coal ash dumps in the country, and not one of them is regulated by the federal government.”

Feb. 27, 2009 - Frances Beinecke, MA


Van Jones, JD, Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Founding President of Green For All, stated the following during a Jan. 7, 2009 radio interview by Tim Einenkel on Air America titled “A Green Economy: Van Jones,” available at the Air America website:

“Clean coal is a fantasy fuel. It does not exist. Right now, coal-fired power plants can remove some of the sulphur from the pollution that the plants spew out of their smokestacks. But the carbon – which is our number one enemy, which is the pollutant that is literally cooking the planet – cannot be effectively captured when power plants burn carbon. The technology simply does not exist.

Besides, show me a clean process for strip-mining, or for mountain-top removal. Coal is not just dirty to burn. It is dirty to mine. The reason we hear all this chatter about clean coal is that the coal industry is dumping millions of dollars into a PR campaign. Clean coal does represent a breakthrough – in the marketing of coal. But it does not represent a breakthrough in the burning of coal.

If we are going to call for clean coal, we may as well promote other fantasy fuels, too. Why not? For instance, let’s propose that unicorns pull our cars for us. Let’s propose that the tooth fairy bring us our energy at night and leave it under our pillow. All three of those ideas – clean coal, cars pulled by unicorn and the tooth fairy bringing us energy – are equally fanciful and ludicrous.”

Jan. 7, 2009 - Van Jones, JD


Rainforest Action Network, an environmental non-profit organization, stated the following in a fact sheet on its website titled “The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal,” available at (accessed Mar. 12, 2009):

“All fossil fuels, including coal, are running out. The longer we keep relying on them, the worse off our environment, climate and society will be.

The fact is, coal will never be sustainable or clean, so don’t let the coal industry con you with slick slogans and marketing…

Currently, the term ‘clean coal’ covers everything from scrubbers on conventional coal plants to marginally more efficient burning processes to futuristic ‘near-zero emission’ technologies that may never be technologically, economically or socially viable…

What the coal industry conveniently omits from its sales pitch is the fact that the entire life cycle of coal is dirty. Before it is burned, coal must be mined, transported and refined. Coal extraction leads to entire mountain ranges destroyed by strip mining; rising rates of asthma and lung disease; water pollution; and the creation of massive amounts of toxic wastes. Coal enthusiasts never mention what it takes to get coal out of the ground in the first place.”

Mar. 12, 2009 - Rainforest Action Network


William L. Chameides, PhD, Dean of the Nicholas School of Earth & Ocean Sciences at Duke University, stated the following in his Feb. 4, 2009 article “Clean Coal’s Dirty Secret – When ‘Clean’ Isn’t Clean,” available at the Nicholas School of the Environment website:

“Coal is the dirtiest fossil fuel. Burning it produces a myriad of noxious air pollutants. That’s a problem. Clean coal technology supposedly scrubs those pollutants before they get into the atmosphere. Problem gone, right? Not quite…

Since 2002 coal-fired power plants in the United States have produced an average of more than 120 million short tons of coal waste each year. In 2007 the United States produced more than 131 million short tons of coal waste. Only about 40 percent of that is recycled, and the rest is dumped into landfills and containment ponds…

There is also the serious problem of air pollutants: these include sulfur oxides (SOX), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and particulate matter (PM), which contribute to acid rain and smog, and a plethora of toxic metals such as mercury…

In the case of air pollution from coal-fired power plants… we’ve developed and implemented technologies that remove the air pollutants from the flue gas and convert them into solid materials…

Once all these solid products are ‘caught,’ they are thrown into the solid waste stream building up around the country in containment ponds and landfills.”

Feb. 4, 2009 - William L. Chameides, PhD


Robert F. Kennedy Jr., LLM, Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and Chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance, stated the following in his Nov. 29, 2007 article “Coal’s True Cost,” available at the Huffington Post website:

“There is no such thing as ‘clean coal.’ And coal is only ‘cheap’ if one ignores its calamitous externalized costs. In addition to global warming, these include dead forests and sterilized lakes from acid rain, poisoned fisheries in 49 states and children with damaged brains and crippled health from mercury emissions, millions of asthma attacks and lost work days and thousands dead annually from ozone and particulates. Coal’s most catastrophic and permanent impacts are from mountaintop removal mining. If the American people could see what I have seen from the air and ground during my many trips to the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia: leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives, there would be a revolution in this country.”

Nov. 29, 2007 - Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., LLM