According to White House energy adviser Heather Zichal, the Obama administration still sees a future for coal. She also said that the administration wasn’t “singing ‘Kumbaya’” with the natural gas industry and was committed to seeing coal burned “in a more environmentally friendly way.”[i] But what does that mean and how do we reach that point?
President Obama supposedly has an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that is displayed on the Barack Obama campaign website.[ii] Unfortunately, coal was missing from the list of the “all-of-the-above” energy policy until recently– after he lost 40 percent of the primary vote in coal-rich West Virginia to a prison felon.[iii] At that point, his website removed ‘fuel efficiency” and replaced it with “clean coal” as part of his “all-of-the-above” energy plan. But what is “clean coal” to the president?
In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a Clean Energy Standard (CES), where by 2035, 80 percent of our electricity would come from “clean” energy sources: renewable energy (e.g. wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower), nuclear power, natural gas, and “clean” coal.[iv]
Most people think of “clean energy” as energy that produces low amounts of pollution such as soot or toxic chemicals, but a “Clean Energy Standard” does not concern itself with actual dirtiness. Instead, proposed bills define “clean” only based on how much carbon dioxide a power plant emits. Carbon dioxide itself is not dirty—it is an odorless, colorless gas that is not toxic until carbon dioxide concentrations are many times higher than in the atmosphere.
Under a CES, ‘clean coal’ is a coal generating technology with Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) equipment that removes 90 percent of its carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, the technology is not commercially viable today.