I'm so sick of hearing about clean coal. It's such an enormous oxymoron it's almost funny - it's right up there with "sexy back hair" and "edible poop". No matter how you spin it, it just doesn't work.
The candidates keep pulling this one out and touting it as the next great step to energy independence. But the real issue is that there's nothing clean about coal.
So, what is clean coal? The industry-sponsored American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity defines it as "any technology to reduce pollutants associated with the burning of coal that was not in widespread use" prior to regulations from 1990. As a result, you can call any newer coal-based power plant clean.
Oh, I suppose you can argue that it's possible to capture the gunk released from burning coal for energy generation even though carbon capture and sequestration is still an industry pipe dream. You can also argue that, since about 50% of America's electricity comes from coal, we might as well pursue all those extra scrubbing bubbles. The fact of the matter is that coal is still somewhat plentiful and it's cheap. What's a cash strapped America to do? Work with what it's got. And that's coal.
But, let's not kid ourselves into believing that coal is clean. The whole process of extracting coal is still a dirty, dangerous job. The mountain top removal and strip mining process doesn't go away. And huge water usage and contamination is still a big part of coal extraction.
So, while the candidates are pandering for votes from the swing "coal states" of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Virginia, let's not all get wrapped up in the idea that coal is clean. It's about as clean as a mouthful of mercury.