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Don't Get Duped Like Obama: Here're the Top 5 Myths About Coal

The coal industry has spent millions trying to fool the American public, Congress and the president. Here's how to beat the hype.

The facts are pretty simple, the U.S. Department of Energy said: "Burning coal is the dirtiest way we produce electricity."  And yet oddly the Obama administration, which has embraced climate legislation and green jobs, is a supporter of the oxymoronic "clean coal." The White House Web site proclaims that one of Obama's priorities is to, "develop and deploy clean coal technology."

And Obama isn't the only who is helping to spread the "clean coal" myth. The new stimulus bill, which just passed Congress, calls for $3.4 million for  "fossil energy research," which refers to carbon dioxide sequestration projects (more on the problems with that below) -- the key component in the "clean coal" fantasy.

But our elected officials are missing, or intentionally ignoring, some crucial information. With global warming posing an enormous international threat, we need to be moving away from dirty sources of energy like coal.

And it's not just global warming emissions that are the whole problem, that black rock has some serious implications for environmental and human health.

But so far, Obama seems unwilling to face the hard facts on coal and challenge the status quo. His plans for more money for renewable energy won't help us if 50 percent of our power is still coming from dirty, coal-fired plants.

The coal industry is hanging on to a fantasy of their future that the media, and many politicians, are helping them to sustain. It's time to put an end to that by debunking some of the top myths they use to keep Americans in the dark about their energy.

1. It's Clean

The coal industry has paid a lot of money to convince people that our dirtiest source of energy can actually be clean. Richard Conniff, writing for Yale Environment 360, said bluntly:

"Clean" is not a word that normally leaps to mind for a commodity some spoilsports associate with unsafe mines, mountaintop removal, acid rain, black lung, lung cancer, asthma, mercury contamination, and, of course, global warming. And yet the phrase "clean coal" now routinely turns up in political discourse, almost as if it were a reality.

So what gives? Of course, there is the political power wielded by senators from coal states such as West Virginia and Pennsylvania. But there's another force to be reckoned with. The Center for American Progress reported that a coalition of 48 coal and utility companies, which form the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, shelled out $45 million on advertising last year. And its money paid off.

The PR firm they hired, the Hawthorne Group, boasted in December, "President-elect Obama and Sen. McCain, their running mates and their surrogates adopted our language and included it as part of their stump speeches. ... We nearly turned candidate events into clean coal rallies."

The backbone of the "clean coal" rhetoric is based on several layers of lies and misinformation. The first is the idea that there is a technology that we have now to make coal clean. The truth is that researchers have been trying to develop a way to burn coal with less-devastating contributions to global warming pollution, which involves capturing the CO2 emissions and storing them somehow, probably underground.

This is often referred to as carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), which moves carbon emissions from one waste stream to another somewhere else and does nothing to prevent the release of highly toxic mercury and other chemicals released when coal is burned. This is one of the things the economic stimulus bill would help to fund.

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