Last night in his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama rightly spoke about the importance of growing a clean energy economy. Dedicating a chunk of his speech to the promise of the clean energy sector of the economy and the necessity for us as a nation to invest in this sector, the president issued a promise to America’s scientists and engineers: If they innovate and come up with clean energy solutions, our government will invest in them and scale them up.
The president called this the “Sputnik moment” of our time. With that analogy, he hit it out of the ballpark. Our ability to invest in and dedicate ourselves to the clean energy economy of the future will guarantee our nation the global edge. It will make us world leaders, and it will guarantee Americans jobs and job security for decades to come. The president tackled this potential in his speech with inspiration and wisdom.
The president then made another promise to America: by 2035, 80 percent of our electricity will come from clean energy sources. For those of us who care about the health of children, our older relatives, and Americans living in cities with known air pollution problems which rack up billions of dollars in medical care costs, this pledge was music to our ears. But what came next in the president’s speech was not: “Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all – and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.”
The problem with that statement is that nuclear energy and coal are not clean. Our partners in Appalachia dealing with the destruction and pollution of mountaintop removal mining as well our partners living near coal ash ponds and sludge impoundments all over the country remind us often that “clean coal” is a dirty lie. No matter what you do with the carbon dioxide pollution after it’s burned, no matter where you store it, it comes from the burning of coal. When burned, coal creates carcinogenic coal ash, which is disposed in ways the put Americans in harm’s ways. Before it’s burned, that coal comes from some extremely dangerous, dirty and harmful methods of mining.
“Clean coal” is an illusion. The term “clean coal” is deception. Our president, though wise to focus on the need for clean energy, knows better, and he should stop promoting that kind of illusion and deception.
If there was one statement, however, that could possibly restore hope, it was his pledge to stand by commonsense safeguards that protect the American people. In addressing his administration’s work on updating regulations, he defended regulations that protect the health and well-being of Americans — ones that make our food safe to eat, our water safe to drink, and our air safe to breathe. He won’t hesitate to create or enforce those regulations. Let’s take that as a pledge from the president to defend and stand by the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and hold him to that promise when industry creates pressure to weaken pollution controls or back down on public health protections.