So, yesterday morning, I was at the Houston airport (yeah, I’m sorry, too) waiting for a flight to Albuquerque (can you blame me?) I’m not a big fan of TV news – tend to think that it imparts very few facts with a whole lot of bluster- but I was watching out of boredom when a commerical came on that almost made me yell at the TV.
The most recent anti-EPA brainchild of the coal industry appears to be something like this: background images of a rodeo ring, with close-ups of angry bulls and plaid-and-denim weaing cowboys (most of whom appear to be a little worse for the wear) attempting to remain on the animal’s back. In the midst of them being tossed around in the dust, a voice-over narrates how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is being impatient and “recklessly” promulgating regulations which endanger small businesses and kill jobs.
Excuse me, what?
The ad was, of course, paid for by an alliance for “clean coal,” a concept which in and of itself still escapes me. But, what made me angry about the ad, wasn’t just the message behind it. I’m all for a wide variety of opinions being voiced in our political arena – it is a democracy, after all, and there is such a thing as freedom of speech. What bothered me about the message was the sheer sensationalism of it. The fact that the coal industry didn’t even attempt to use a single fact, figure, or number. There was no justification provided – not even those which could have strengthened their argument. Instead, it was a pure marketing scheme: a powerful image and clever wording designed to implant a question in people’s minds.
A question which is, of course, ridiculous. First and foremost, there is almost no physical way for the regulatory process to ever be “reckless” in the federal government. Regulations take years to develop, edit, and promulgate. There are typically long public comment periods, in which members of the general populus can weigh in and the administering agency is required to respond.
That aside, though, the technique in use here is particularly insidious. The commerical is based solely on one goal: to prey upon fear of change. To convince the public that EPA is going to take away their way of life and their jobs. To once again paint the environmental movement as extremists who do not share the same fundamental values as the rest of the country. They want you to think that regulatory agencies are the reason behind the slow economy and that environmental improvement is anti-business and anti-growth.
Meanwhile, let’s talk about “clean coal” for a second – an umbrella term which is used to define any technologies that reduce emissions from coal. This originally focused on heavy metals, particulate matter, and the “nox and sox” (nitrogen- and sulfur-oxides with varying numbers of oxygen to their name) but recently also includes carbon-capture and sequestration (CCS) methods which attempt to mitigate the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-burning. There are two problems with this: first off, it isn’t all that clean – coal-fired power plants are still responsible for thousands of cases of asthma and breathing problems around the country every single year, and are the main contributor to poor air quality in many cities. Coal burning power plants have also been linked to non-point source water pollution in some areas where emissions settle to the groun and then are carried in runoff throughout an entire watershed and to bodies of water such as the Chesapeake Bay (no, seriously – it’s a major contributor.)
Then, why do we keep burning coal? Because it’s easy, and we know how to do it, and it’s cheap, right? Well, on that last one, you might be a little off. You see, as recently as 2007, tabs on federal subsidies for energy sources indicate that per kW/hr of energy generated, clean coal actually recieves the largest subsidy of any energy source. Yes: more than solar, or wind, or biofuels, or any other energy source.
The bottom line is this: the bull-riding ad is full of more than they intended, I think. Coal companies aren’t running this because they care about jobs or about small businesses (side note: I’m fairly certain there are WAY more small and start-up businesses in the renewables field – coal companies tend to be large conglomerates). What they care about is keeping their federal dollars in the midst of all this cutting, and not having to pay for the messes that they create. They don’t want Clean Air and Clean Water regulations strengthened – even if it means millions of dollars in public costs towards health care and cleanup – because it affects their bottom line.
And they say EPA is being reckless? I call bull.
Author’s note: I tried to find a YouTube copy of the commerical online, but was unsuccessful. I will continue to search and if/when I find it, trust me that it will be posted. Also, I will specifically identify the organization behind it.