Obama: Can He Be Trusted on Coal?

For enviros concerned about global warming, nothing matters more than opposing the construction of new coal plants, in this country and around the world. That’s because coal is by far the most carbon intensive of all fuels. James Hansen, the world’s leading climatologist, has been talking about its menace for years. In an op-ed published in the Boston Globe (here) earlier this year, he wrote:

If the wonders of nature, our coastlines, and our social and
economic well being are to be preserved, our society must begin phasing
out coal use until and unless the carbon dioxide emissions are captured
and stored. Continuing to build coal-fired power plants without carbon
capture will lock in future climate disasters for our children and
grandchildren.

The people of Massachusetts took great risk, for
the sake of themselves and their progeny, when they drew a line with
the British at Lexington and Concord. It is time for a line to be drawn
with the powerful special interests, who reap profits from our
fossil-fuel addiction.

Changing the course dictated by
fossil-fuel interests will not be easy. It requires leadership to
define a path with increased support for energy efficiency and
clean-energy sources. But this is what citizens must demand, as they
tell their government to say no to coal.

So now that Barack Obama has all but officially secured the Democratic nomination, we must ask the question: Will he oppose coal plant construction?

It’s especially important because as a legislator from a coal state, early in his career he did support the coal industry, and in the Senate in 2005 even supported a liquified coal measure that would have sharply boosted coal emissions. Now running for national office he has called for a ceiling on carbon emissions, and mostly stopped using the phrase "clean coal," an industry favorite, because it implies that coal can be burned without adding millions of tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere — a falsehood.

But in Kentucky, he distributed an ad (here) in which he talked of "leading the fight for clean coal" and touted his support for the industry. It didn’t work, but it did trouble Obama backers — such as yours truly.

Can he be trusted on this issue? It may be too soon to tell: Republicans (such as Grover Norquist) have been suggesting that McCain could make hay against Obama in coal states. In a recent Los Angeles Times article (here), we learned:

Norquist says…that McCain’s position means "he won’t be able to
draw a sharp contrast" with his Democratic opponent…and
thus will miss the opportunity "to do what Bush did to Gore: travel the
coal states and tell workers that the Democratic candidate favors
environmental rules that will cost you your job."

Promise to destroy the planet to win an election? Don’t worry: it’s "conservative." What could go wrong?

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