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The Last Minute Obama-McCain Coal Debate

The U.S. coal industry was up in arms today over a comment Sen.
Barack Obama (D-Ill.) made about the future of coal, and it became one of the last-minute issues in an effort to swing votes in coal-producing regions of the Midwest.

The Western Business Roundtable, the National Mining Association and various other groups criticized Obama for a comment he made in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. They quoted the interview at some length, in which Obama discusses his support for a cap-and-trade bill that would force all emitters of greenhouse gases to buy allowances in a public auction. This is a plan that has very widespread support among Democrats, some Republicans (including Sen. John McCain, who co-sponsored two cap-and-trade bills) and many utilities (especially those with more nuclear than greenhouse gas-emitting coal plants).

Here's the key line from Obama: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

The language about bankrupting plants was harsh, but the whole idea of a cap-and-trade bill or a tax or any number of other plans is to make emitting greenhouse gases more expensive -- so expensive that people stop emitting them. This, incidentally, is generally thought to be a more market-friendly solution than simply ordering a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions through regulatory fiat. But the coal industry, not without reason, is worried about the impact on its business. Hence its tone of outrage today.

"We are calling upon Democrats, Republicans and Independents from coast to coast to publicly express their support for advanced clean coal power generation and to distance themselves from those who say that we should bankrupt the coal industry," said Britt Weygandt, Executive Director of the Western Business Roundtable, in a press release. "A lot of Americans are going to be listening in the next 24 hours to see which elected leaders stand up for clean coal and which don't."

"I am shocked that any candidate for public office, Democrat or Republican, would suggest bankrupting any industry, much less one that literally keeps America's lights on each day," said Wyoming State Senator Bill Vasey (D), in a press release by an industry group called Americans for American Energy.

The National Mining Association said in its own press release:

"Bankrupting the coal industry would be tantamount to bankrupting the American economy. Coal generates half of our nation's electricity, employs hundreds of thousands of Americans and provides millions of dollars in revenue to coal states... Destroying the coal industry would break America's energy backbone. It would raise the cost of energy for households and businesses throughout the country and create massive job losses. We trust the candidates understand this and do not believe that destroying the coal industry is part of the change we need."

The Obama campaign hit back today, calling the issue another of the McCain-Palin campaign's "last minute, desperate distortions." The campaign said that Obama supports "clean coal," shorthand for saying he would invest in technology that would attempt to capture and bury carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants. Without that technology, the choice between burning coal and slowing climate change could become a stark one. The climate issue can't be solved without addressing emissions from coal plants. But the technology is probably at least a decade or so away from being commercially viable, so supporting "clean coal" sidesteps the question of what he'd do about new coal plants now. That is, presumably, why the senator was describing the impact a cap-and-trade bill might have at an earlier point. This is a dilemma, incidentally, that a McCain presidency would have, too, if McCain is sensitive to the need to slow climate change.

So what did Obama actually say? The Western Business Roundtable sent a text around. But the Obama campaign version includes a few sentences at the beginning that the business group omitted. Here it is:

"I voted against the Clear Skies Bill. In fact, I was the deciding vote. Despite the fact that I'm a coal state. And that half my state thought that I had thoroughly betrayed them. Because I think clean air is critical and global warming is critical. But this notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal. And China is building a coal-powered plant once a week. So what we have to do then is figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon. And how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can't, then we're gonna still be working on alternatives.

"But...[NOTE: here's where the Western Business Roundtable picked up the text.] let me sort of describe my overall policy. What I've said is that we would put a cap and trade policy in place that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anyone out there. I was the first call for 100% auction on the cap and trade system. Which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gases that was emitted would be charged to the polluter. That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market. And the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel, and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing that I've said with respect to coal--I haven't been some coal booster. What I have said is that for us to take coal off the table as a ideological matter, as opposed to saying if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, we should pursue it. That I think is the right approach. The same with respect to nuclear. Right now, we don't know how to store nuclear waste wisely and we don't know how to deal with some of the safety issues that remain. And so it's wildly expensive to pursue nuclear energy. But I tell you what, if we could figure out how to store it safely, then I think most of us would say that might be a pretty good deal. The point is, if we set rigorous standards for the allowable emissions, then we can allow the market to determine and technology and entrepreneurs to pursue, what the best approach is to take, as opposed to us saying at the outset, here are the winners that we're picking and maybe we pick wrong and maybe we pick right."

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Comments (27)

veronica5 Author Profile Page:

As the new President and Vice President are choosing their cabinet(s), it is still important to keep in mind the other concerning manners happening not only with the United States but also around the world. The Global Poverty Act is an act that would help cut the global poverty/hunger in half by 2015 with the help of the Millennium Development Goal. The Borgen Project is helping to do their part by bringing attention to this fact. To find out more go to!

judeclemente21 Author Profile Page:

Reality regarding both the global and domestic energy situation is starting to set in. A recently released national poll of U.S. opinion leaders by RT Strategies indicates very strong support for coal. The findings include:

· 72% support the use of coal to generate electricity while only 22% oppose
· 69% say coal is a fuel of the future
· 82% believe we need to rely more on American coal for our energy needs
· 80% say American coal can help lead us to energy independence
· By a three-to-one margin over the next priority, the number-one energy initiative for the next president is reducing dependence on foreign oil

Coal's favorability represents a significant increase over the past year and the highest level of support since polling began almost 10 years ago.

Coal is already America's greatest energy resource and supplies half of our electricity. But we need to do more to use clean coal to deliver energy security and environmental solutions. Coal can also be converted to liquid fuels and natural gas using established technologies.

Clean coal means new, efficient coal-fueled power plants with hundreds of millions of dollars of environmental technologies, like the Prairie State Energy Campus in Southern Illinois which has a 15% lower CO2 footprint than existing plants. And clean coal can also turn the vision of Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) into reality as we solve the technology and regulatory hurdles to let America capture and store CO2.

President -elect Obama's “New Energy for America” plan explicitly states that his administration will “develop and deploy clean coal technology ... as we power our economy with domestically produced and secure energy”. That fits right in with the growing public recognition that clean coal can power our future.

bruce18 Author Profile Page:

Cap and trade will bankrupt our economy. The government will make the investment decisions for the "cap" taxes. That process has never worked: China, Russia, Japan. The only time the economies grew was when millions of individuals did what was best for them, and were not overridden by government bureaucrates.


If it were up to conservatives we would still be riding around in wagons and riding horses. They just don't seem to have any forward vision. Just like the wagon industry had to give way to automobiles, and the gas industry had to give way to electricity, due to global needs, the coal and oil industries are on the cusp of having to give way to CNG, electric, wind and hydrogen technoligies. We as a race cannot continue to ignore the deterioration of our planet and do nothing. I will never understand how the human race can be so short sighted. I will never understand the philosophy that it's OK to kill the planet as long as you make enough money. What good will all the money in the world do you when the air is no longer fit to breath, and the water is no longer fit to drink, and the land will no longer produce a crop. We as a race need to wake up and realize that fighting for control of a sinking ship is useless. Every credible scientist on the planet agrees that it is not a matter of if, but when our planet suffers an extinction level event. When will we wake up and understand that the future existance of the human race depends on finding another planet or moon that is habitable. If we don't, when this planet ends so does the human race and everything it has ever been or done. I cannot understand why, being armed with this essential knowlege, we not only keep fighting among ourselve, but actually manufacture reasons for war. Greed for money and power, and pitting man against man will not get us where we need to go. I will never understand lemmings or a race that, through inaction, embraces it's own extinction

decon12003 Author Profile Page:

Shirleyafreeman ....
You do realize that Senator John McCain supports the Cap-and-Trade as well ... don't you?

"John McCain's Cap and Trade Policy

John McCain Proposes A Cap-And-Trade System That Would Set Limits On Greenhouse Gas Emissions While Encouraging The Development Of Low-Cost Compliance Options. A climate cap-and-trade mechanism would set a limit on greenhouse gas emissions and allow entities to buy and sell rights to emit, similar to the successful acid rain trading program of the early 1990s. The key feature of this mechanism is that it allows the market to decide and encourage the lowest-cost compliance options."

There is no mention of differentiating between "CURRENT" coal plants and "NEW" coal plants. What would be the point of initiating a program such as "Cap-n-Trade", but excusing those most guilty.

Both candidates know that inorder to make such a program work, no one industry or producer can be immune. That would essentially remove the incentive to develop "clean-coal" plants. Much like the Billions of wasted subsidies that have been handed to the coal industry for decades to research and develop just such changes. The subsidies the coal industry has just stuck in their pockets and smiled while saying "Sure ... we're working hard on this issue ... really we are!" wink wink

ScottChallenger Author Profile Page:

It's like watching regular network news channels and then Fox news. It's as if you're in two different countries. Why? Brainwashing.

Brainwashing from the constant stream of disinformation from the right wing. Read and re-read the full text above and then reasonably and factually conclude Obama is trying to destroy the coal industry.

The right wing is suffering from a brain drain. Soon all that will be left is the fire and brimstone crowd trying to convince everyone the earth is the center of the universe and that Santa Clause is real. And they'll be totally shocked and call you silly names if you don't believe them.

Can the USA give the right-wing nuts a small island in the pacific to go habitat and create their own country? How about the Marshall Islands or something. They can create their own fantasy world and then breed themselves out of existence. Hannity is Pres., Coulter is V.P., and Dick garbage mouth Morris is in charge of immigration. The country's name?

DoTheRightThing Author Profile Page:

If BO wins today, fasten your financial seatbelts, because it will take us on a financially-terrifying four-year plunge into the economic abyss gouged out by the socialist and contra-anthropogenic-global-warming policies of BO's handlers.

xconservative Author Profile Page:

SHIRLEYAFREEMAN wrote: In taking such a position, Obama is putting ideology (save our environment), ahead of the strength and well-being of American families
The thing you flat-earthers just don't get is that if we ruin the environment, we'll all be dead. What part of that doesn't get through? We've known about these problems for more than 40 years and we've addressed some of the symptoms, but none of the root causes.

As far as McSame and the Hee Haw Hooker with their Drill, Baby, Drill. We need to get off of oil completely. Everyone talks about FOREIGN oil. The same companies that are screwing us over there will screw us over here. Until we get off our oil fix, we'll be at their mercy.

I have a slogan for you Republicretins - Think, Baby, Think. It only hurts until you get used to it.

gdodd414 Author Profile Page:

Its not just the coal industry that should be concerned. Obama said his policy would cause electric rates to "Skyrocket". That will affect everything starting with the steel industry, and Aluminum too. The ripple effect will adversely affect the auto industry, the building and construction industry, the glass industry. And many more.
And the effect upon residential consumers will be a double hit. Rising costs for almost everything including rising costs for electricity for their home. The slowdown in the economy will affect every person in the entire United States. If Obama and the democrats are in charge, we are headed for a Greater Depression the like of which few alive today can remember.

magellan1 Author Profile Page:

Cap and trade is just another form of taxation under another name. Unlike Obama's progressive taxation notions, however, cap and trade will pass the costs on to all consumers. As a result, poor people will be hurt the most since a higher percentage of their income goes for paying energy costs.

Perhaps that's why he wants to lower taxes on those making less than $250,000; people still won't have a surplus, but they won't be freezing and living in the dark under cap and trade.

dmathew1 Author Profile Page:

I live in Florida and happen to visit the coastline on a regular basis. The oceans are rising. You can tell easily enough by the migration of ecological niches inland.

So I'll be very happy should the entire coal industry go bankrupt ... and the oil industry as well. How much more can humankind afford to trash the Earth and provoke catastrophic climate change?

Not very much more at all. Perhaps humankind has already crossed a tipping point.

The ice caps are melting and the oceans are rising. Stop burning coal and oil if you would like to avoid extinction, humankind.

RodAdams Author Profile Page:

The politically interesting part about this tempest is that the interview with the San Francisco Chronicle took place in January and has been readily available for discussion ever since. Why wait until November to start talking about it?

As a former nuclear submarine officer who really likes nuclear power for its ability to produce massive quantities of reliable electricity without producing any emissions, I am in favor of a system that charges coal, oil and gas for the service that we are all providing by allowing them to dump their deadly waste into our common atmosphere.

The writing on the wall for the coal industry has been there for fifty years. There is a cleaner, cheaper alternative. Instead of shifting to that alternative, the coal industry has spent 40 years in a rear guard effort to defend its market share, doing everything it could to slow down the growth of nuclear power.

I have no tears for the owners of the mines. On the other hand, I do care about the mine workers but I know that a growing nuclear power construction and operating industry would have plenty of good paying jobs for hard working miners.

They might even prefer working in a clean, safe environment that does not offer the regular opportunity for injury and death in tunnel collapses. They might even enjoy the fact that they are no longer having to blow up their beloved mountains in order to feed their families in the rural areas of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. After all, those areas would make good locations for important parts of the nuclear fuel cycle.

Heck, just a few miles from the Virginia coal country is one of the largest known deposits of uranium in the US.

omelas Author Profile Page:

* shakes head at MAfromNM *

You only add "k" to America instead of a "c" to indicate that you support the KKK version of a white power only Amerika. Since we know that's not Barak Obama's position...

Anyways, please, people should read the extensive economic analysis of coal as a power source in the US instead of listening to political sources before they go spouting off... the energy output of what coal is left in the US is far inferior to what we used to produce, and the productivity of the coal industry has been in decline for years because coal is becoming harder and harder to get at. Even at the best possible projections, coal will peak as a world source of power by 2025.

Why invest in a pyramid scheme? Only the companies who build the plants will make money. And the companies who try to operate them will infact go bankrupt or end up shutting them down at a loss.

Of course, don't let capitalism get in the way of a sound bite!!

truthhurts Author Profile Page:

It's good the entire argument was put into context. Of course this issue is key to the Keystone state as well as West Virginia and various other coal producing states. Coal is after all a natural resource of The United States which gets exported as well.

Of immediate concern to the Coal Industry ought to be transportation costs. This last summer, trucking companies and drivers that haul coal were hit hard by diesel fuel costs. And that is no exception to the Railroad Industry which is dependent on coal for revenues. Net result to consumers, higher electric bills.

Technology has and will move us forward. All parties must keep an eye on the future. Remember, that most pollutants released by coal generated electric plants occurs overseas. Is a carbon tax alone the way towards progress ? Well, in Economics 101, I was taught that taxes inflate prices for consumers.

gdodd414 Author Profile Page:

Skyrocketing electric prices will kill the American Steel Industry, the American Aluminum Industry, the American Paper Industry, and a host of support industries related to these. In addition, it will further decimate the American auto industry.

The decline in these industries will force many communities out of business. It will affect restaurants, real estate, insurance, hardware stores, tire stores, pet shops, auto parts stores, fashion shops, hospitals, schools, tax receipts, and more importantly people's lives who live in those communities.

It will raise residential heating and cooling costs at the precise time when our economy can tolerate it the least. This could be the straw that breaks the back of the American Economy and forces it down to the depths of a depression.

This is not about bankrupting JUST the coal industry. It is about bankrupting the nation as a whole.

mellingerman Author Profile Page:

Ha Edgy3,

Heaven forbid that someone actually question the Messiah. Shirley's comments were rational and supported by facts.

Your arguments are shrill emotional tripe.

rsanchez Author Profile Page:

The Washington Post, dignifying this detritus by giving it broader circulation, is falling for the same third-grader trick that the McCain-Rove experts have devised for the least educated voters in all of the world "democracies". What a pity!

shirleyafreeman Author Profile Page:

Obama's interview with the editorial board of the San Francisco Chronicle is most interesting. It is available in its entirety on the Fox News web site. Obama plainly said IN CONTEXT, nothing left out, folks, that under his cap and trade plan coal-powered plants will be bankrupted. And, he plainly said electricity costs will skyrocket along with costs of coal under his plan (because coal provides 50% of our electricity). He made no mention of the obvious job losses that would result, or financial struggles of American families that would result.

In taking such a position, Obama is putting ideology (save our environment), ahead of the strength and well-being of American families, as well as the strength and well-being of our country's economy. McCain also plans a cap and trade program, but he will not use it against our current coal industry until our new 'clean coal' technology is ready to go online. McCain knows that to achieve Energy Independence from foreign oil, we have to use our U.S. energy supplies as transition fuel, while we are developing 'clean, green' technology. Without using our current fuel supplies as transition fuel, our economy and our families would be greatly weakened and suffer greatly from cap and trade.

dchaffins Author Profile Page:

Over 50% of our elctricity is generated from coal-fired plants. Yes, coal generates some crappy stuff. So does petroleum and nuclear plants. Whatcha gonna do? Buying and selling credits for the gunk produced sounds kind of like mega-business screwing me again. Okay, so I'm an old guy from the 70's. I still don't think we should give 3'rd world folks the opportunity to screw the atmosphere while we great powers power down on emmissions. Has anyone thought for a moment that maybe we are at the point of having too many people on the this planet? Geez!

exasperated4 Author Profile Page:

How ridiculous is this? First of all, they left out the whole first part leading up to the quote in question, thereby taking it completely out of context, and second of all, the bill he's talking about is supported by both him AND McCain--so even if he WERE trying to "bankrupt" the coal industry (which he's NOT), McCain would be right there doing the exact same thing. Think before you speak, people!

MisiaFine Author Profile Page:

Shame on you! That story was a fake! And it came out as a fake several days ago!

ibjahmon Author Profile Page:

"Clean" Coal...It's safe, healthy and enviromentally friendly like unleaded gasoline... right?

ramprof Author Profile Page:

Absolutely sloppy reporting. The SF Chronicle has completely disavowed this story. See Palin just made this up out of thin air.

goaway41 Author Profile Page:

Who cares about the US coal industry? Every day they poison us, killing tens of thousands of people per year, yet when we try to force them to clean up and stop polluting, they whine and cry about how they're going to lose their jobs, then use lobbyists to push for laws they know are immoral. I frankly couldn't care less about them.

MAfromNM Author Profile Page:


The coal industry and the thousands of employees should rightfully stand up and take notice.

The quickest way to take over a nation is through it's utility and communication systems. Ask yourself why we bombed the communications and utility stations in Bahgdad. HELLO!!!!!

The Messiah is bent on destroying American corporations so that he can swoop in and and make them "state industries". That way all profits can be "spread around" for the good of "the people".

This guy won't be happy until he's created the United Socialist States of Amerika!!!

thelocke Author Profile Page:

Is McCain ACTUALLY on the Campaign Trail Right now???

I found this picture of him in a HOSPITAL online earlier, it was up on some news site, then all of the sudden I couldn't find it again...I managed to Save it to my Photobucket Account...Does anyone know if this is REAL?

Jorge3 Author Profile Page:

McCain's still at it--more lies, more half-truths, more negativity. Can't he simply go away???? Oh well, one more day of his garbage.

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