David Roberts, an environmental writer for Grist.com, has written a great critique of the coal industry's "clean coal" campaign, pointing out that "it's an obvious scam -- easily exposed, easily debunked. Just because it's obvious, though, doesn't mean the media won't fall for it. Indeed, the entire 'clean coal' propaganda push is premised on the media's gullibility." Roberts notes, as have others, including a recent report by the Center for American Progress (CAP), that "the companies funding 'clean coal' PR aren't spending much on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) research." They have therefore made no progress in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that make coal a potent cause of global warming. The concept of "clean coal" was invented to answer concerns about global warming, and its advocates play a rhetorical game of bait-and-switch on precisely this topic. When pressed about how coal can be clean, Roberts observes, "they revert to the other definition of 'clean' -- the notion that coal plants have reduced their emissions of traditional air pollutants like particulates and mercury (as opposed to greenhouse gases)."
To see how this flimflam works on a gullible media, Roberts points to the example of Politico's Erica Lovley, whom he dubs "2008's presumptive frontrunner for Most Gullible Journalist." (Perhaps we'll have to add that category to next year's Falsies Awards.) He provides an example showing how Lovley allowed a coal industry spokesman to use the bait-and-switch trick to "dispute" CAP's report by changing the subject rather than actually addressing the facts.
I wrote recently about another breathtakingly cynical -- and ultimately ineffective -- coal industry PR stunt, the animated "clean coal carolers" that sang Christmas songs rewritten with pro-coal lyrics. I managed to preserve a YouTube video of one of those songs, "Frosty the Coalman," but the backlash against the songs on the blogosphere was so severe that the industry's front group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), yanked the whole campaign off their website after only three days. The clean coal carolers appeared and disappeared so quickly that I didn't get around to copying the other tunes before they were all gone. Fortunately, environmental blogger Lloyd Alter made YouTubes of some of the others, so future generations dealing with famine, mass extinctions and extreme weather events can brighten their mood by watching animated anthracite perform renditions of "Deck the Halls,"Clean Coal Night" (sung to the tune of "Silent Night"), and "O Technology" (sung to the tune of "O Christmas Tree"). In this case, at least, the blogosphere showed that it had a better BS detector than the mainstream media. With the exception of a commentary by Rachel Maddow, the clean coal carolers went largely unmentioned and uncritized by the mainstream media until after the industry had already pulled the plug on its failed campaign. But the "clean coal" campaign is far from over, and it is counting on finding more stenographers posing as reporters to help transmit its propaganda.