On Monday, toxic coal sludge burst through a retention wall in eastern Tennessee, causing massive property and environmental damage. Federal studies have shown that coal ash contains “significant quantities of heavy metals like arsenic, lead and selenium, which can cause cancer and neurological problems.” The incident — already being called the “largest environmental disaster of its kind in the United States” — may now be even worse than originally anticipated. Tennessee Valley Authority officials “initially said that about 1.7 million cubic yards of wet coal ash had spilled” in the disaster. Yesterday, however, they “released the results of an aerial survey that showed the actual amount was 5.4 million cubic yards, or enough to flood more than 3,000 acres one foot deep.”Of course, "clean coal" was supposed to be a response to global warming, so the coal industry might maintain that it's still "clean" in that regard, but this is of course also untrue, as Sheldon Rampton at the Center for Media and Democracy points out
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)."