The Myth Of “Clean Coal”

There is no such thing as clean coal.

“Clean coal” is an umbrella term for a several technologies designed to reduce the negative environmental impact of burning coal, the most prominent of which is carbon sequestration.

The idea behind carbon sequestration is that the CO2 released by burning coal for energy can be captured and stored in a way that keeps it out of the atmosphere. But that’s an inherently risky approach, like the storage of any other environmentally-hazardous material; there’s no guarantee those captured gasses will remain sequestered forever, and the potential that they could leak back out into the environment is significant.

Plus, it’s not just the CO2 that makes coal dangerous:

Coal-fired power plants are not only a major source of carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, they are also one of the leading sources of fine particulate matter linked to asthma and other respiratory problems.


Even if greenhouse gases and all other pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants could be controlled, coal mining itself would still create adverse environmental impacts. Making coal “clean” would require a lot more than capturing the carbon emissions.

Not to mention that–according to the EPA–coal-fired power plants are the largest remaining source of human-generated mercury emissions in the United States.

So sequestering carbon dioxide emissions wouldn’t even begin to address the other environmental damage caused by mining and burning coal.

The fact is, coal is dirty. And despite all the money spent to advertise clean coal, there isn’t a single “clean coal” plant operating anywhere in America. There isn’t a single household in the United States powered by “clean coal.” And out of the roughly 600 electricity-generating coal plants in this country, none of them employs “clean coal technology.” Not one.

We need to move away from all fossil fuels and move toward naturally-clean, renewable sources of energy. There is no reason for us to invest millions of dollars in cleaning up a pre-existing technology when we can invest those same millions in developing new, already-clean sources of energy.

Plus, in researching, developing, building and implementing those new technologies, we can create millions of new green-collar jobs.

It can be done, so let’s get it done. That’s the American way.