Front Porch Blog

How Far Can Touting “Sustainable Coal” Get You?

What's sustainable about coal? We'll leave it up to CoalBlue, a new group of Democrats supporting coal, to make that case.

What’s sustainable about coal? We’ll leave it up to CoalBlue, a new group of Democrats touting the so far undiscovered energy source, to make that case.

A few weeks ago, we heard of a new coal lobbying group (I know, just the thing the world needs) that aims to support something we have not heard of, something called “sustainable coal.”

Formed by current and former Democratic members of the U.S House of Representatives, along with several coal lobbyists, CoalBlue aims to mobilize Americans in support of sustainable coal as part of a sensible, “all of the above” energy strategy.

With the way the political winds have blown over the past several years, it’s no surprise that Democrats are attempting to rally to keep coal relevant in the national debate over energy policy. The “war on coal” rhetoric employed primarily by Republicans, as vexing and misguided as it is, has been effective in pushing voters in coal-producing regions further to the right.

But in many cases, individual Democrats have been just as outspoken in their disdain for the EPA and, more recently, the Obama administration’s proposed actions to avert climate change. With strength in numbers, a group like CoalBlue could be seen as a logical next step.

In a press release announcing the group subtitled “Leading Democrats form coalition to advance sustainable coal” — seriously the word “sustainable” is all over the place — West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said he welcomes CoalBlue as a “valuable and necessary voice in the national conversation regarding our nation’s energy future.”

The only Democrat in the Senate who voted against the confirmation of EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, we can imagine how Manchin might sometimes feel like the last kid picked for the kickball team. He’s consistently been at odds with party leadership on energy policy and environmental protection, and after President Obama’s coming out on climate change in June, Manchin said the president had quickly gone from waging a “war on coal” to a “war on America.”

In the same release, West Virginia Rep. Nick Rahall claims “A viable energy future can only be achieved with clean coal” and applauds CoalBlue for its “efforts to bring more voices to the table in support of sustainable coal.” There it is again.

While it’s no secret that there are a lot of Democrats at every level of government that support coal, CoalBlue Secretary Stephen Bailey told reporter Kate Sheppard that a forum is needed for them to make their support known. The group plans to work with congressional, state, and local elected officials, and while the exact measures the group will push for are unclear, according to Bailey, it will work to advance coal technologies and find ways to keep coal in the energy mix.

Writing for The Huffington Post, Sheppard reported that CoalBlue president Jon Wood is the former vice president of government and external affairs for Alpha Natural Resources, one of the largest U.S. coal producers. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Wood is still a registered lobbyist for the company.

Ever since the president’s speech on climate change, we’ve watched the reactions that have ranged from jubilant, hopeful and heartened to cynical and combative. With the addition of CoalBlue to the conversation over coal’s future, we’re curious whether its supporters will accept the challenges facing their chosen energy source head on or return to using the tired anti-regulatory “war on coal” rhetoric.

If CoalBlue truly sets its sights on advancing technology and looking to the future, the group could be on the right track. But if it detours into another faction working to obstruct and delay much needed protections for communities impacted by coal or rules to protect future generations from climate change, it will be for naught. Either way, it’s safe to say that standing firmly behind the message of “sustainable coal” can only get you so far.

Brian is an environmental news junkie concerned with our lagging energy policy and revealing the true cost of coal on our health, the environment and the climate. He is Appalachian Voices' Director of Strategic Advancement.


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