American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
Greenwashing Dirty Coal

Investigations Brief

The America's Power campaign, funded by the coal and electricity industry, promotes coal as our country's solution to energy independence. They do this through the lens of clean coal, when in reality they are simply a front group for an industry lobby aimed to keep dirty coal plants in existence.

The Campaign

Background

American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is a not-for-profit organization (NGO) founded as a result of the merge between Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) [1]. Its stated mission is "to advance the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions." [2]

Campaign Details

ACCCE's mission is to convey to consumers and elected officials that coal should play a central role in meeting future American energy needs. As it notes on its website, "America can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits of using domestic energy resources like coal to meet our growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean energy. In a word...we believe in technology." [3] As part of this effort, ACCCE has sought to re-brand coal as a "clean" energy source. Its messaging reminds viewers that "half of our electricity comes from coal" and that "coal is our most abundant fuel." [4]

Ad Bluster

To do this, ACCCE is spending at least $35 million in 2008 to mount a major public relations campaign designed to promote public awareness of clean coal in the context of the Presidential race. They are doing this by flooding the election season with national and local ad campaigns.

ACCCE's campaign is built around an "American Energy" theme, arguing that "clean" coal-fired power plants are the only viable path to American energy independence. They have run print ads in key primary states to remind prospective voters of their state's reliance on coal and tout the benefits of clean coal in terms of both jobs and affordable power. To date, the local ads have run in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania [5]. In addition to a traditional media campaign, ACCCE utilizes a ground force of 150,000 supporters, who they call the "civilian army" and their "Power Van" as a guerilla force to bird-dog political rallies and events across the country festooned with clean coal slogans and a blue sky backdrop [6].

Along with their print ad campaign, ACCCE paid CNN $5 million to be one of the main co-sponsors of six presidential debates, providing saturation advertising both on television and online. Some blogs have noted the irony that during these debates, no questions have been asked about climate and specifically about coal.

Outcome

In 2007 alone, 59 proposed coal plants were cancelled or put on hold and in January DOE pulled the plug on the FutureGen project planned for Illinois that would be the first "near-zero emissions" facility utilizing cap and storage technology because the project was resulting in higher than expected costs. And to top things off, in October 2007, Kansas became the first state to reject issuing a permit for a new coal-fired plan solely because of its potential to contribute to global warming. But the coal industry isn't giving up, in fact ACCCE has increased its budget from approximately $8 million to $35 million for 2008 [7]. Other industry partners such as the National Mining Association have also increased their lobbying significantly in 2008 [8]. The intention is clear, the coal industry is determined to maintain America's over reliance on coal as a domestic energy source in spite of the need to diversify energy production to address global warming and minimize any impacts to the coal industry within the energy debate.

Greenwash Revealed

ACCCE is a wholly owned (albeit non-profit) subsidiary of the U.S. coal industry. Its list of 43 supporters reads like a who's who of the coal, rail, and electricity industries: ALCOA, American Electric Power, CSX, Detroit Edison, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, Southern Company and Union Pacific Railroad. Its real purpose, contrary to its claims, is not to promote coal as a source for clean or green energy, but merely to ensure that the United States continues to be highly dependent on coal for its energy needs.

It's the Law, Stupid

Not surprisingly, ACCCE's promotion of clean coal plays with the facts. Although ACCCE claims that its "coal-based generating fleet is 70 percent cleaner than before," these numbers refer only to reductions in sulfur oxide (SOX) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions [9]. The coal industry has yet to implement technology to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main cause of global warming. ACCCE also fails to state anywhere in its campaign or on its website that coal plants are cleaner today not because of the industry's voluntary efforts, but rather as a result of legislative mandates or court decisions [10].

Perhaps the most misleading component of ACCCE's campaign is its implication that new and better CCS technologies capable of creating "near-zero emissions" are right around the corner. In reality, some scientists feel that the earliest CCS technology could be implemented is 2030 and would cost billions [11]. This is illustrated by the DOE's decision to pull out of FutureGen when the project began to exceed projected costs.

Political Spin

While the public mission of the group is to promote clean coal, a closer look at the group reveals otherwise. Newly formed in 2008, ACCCE is the latest version of the long lineage of coal front groups. If you look at the federal tax records for ACCCE's parent organization, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), you will find the true nature of their work. In their 2006 tax records, ABEC claims that they promote "an increased awareness of improvements in U.S. air quality and the coal-based electricity sector's role in America's ongoing environmental progress as well as the mobilization of a citizen army on issues involving various state regulatory and legislative actions including decisions on implementation of EPA's Clean Air Mercury rule and actions to regulate utility greenhouse gas emissions." [12]

At the same time that ACCCE was telling the public that it was dedicated to clean technology, it was spending over $2.6 million lobbying Congress. According to lobbying records, it "opposed the national renewal portfolio" in the Comprehensive Energy Bill (HR 6) and contested the America's Climate Security Act (better known as the Lieberman-Warner bill) when it came before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee [13].

Dirty Business

While, ACCCE promotes the benefits of coal to local communities, they neglect to speak to the reality of the environmental damage caused by its extraction and use. They fail to mention the impacts of air pollutants and mercury contamination produced in the burning of coal, which are known to cause cancer, impair reproduction, inhibit child development, damage the nervous and immune systems, and worsen respiratory ailments like asthma. They never mention the environmental impact of coal mining, which includes erosion, groundwater contamination, habitat destruction, and toxic waste. Environmental and economic costs incurred in waste disposal and land reclamation and transportation are also omitted from the dialog [14].

Perhaps most relevant to its current campaign, ACCCE proudly admits that 50 percent of our electricity comes from coal, yet they neglect to admit its contribution to climate change. The EPA documented that in 2006 electricity generation "is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, representing 33 percent of total US emissions [15]. In reality, there is nothing "clean" about the coal electicity it promotes.

[1] America's Power
[2] America's Power
[3] America's Power
[4] America's Power
[5] America's Power
[6] America's Power
[7] 2006 IRS form 990, Americans For Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
[8] The Washington Post
[9] America's Power
[10] Keating, Martha. Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts from Coal. June 2001 Clean Air Task Force
[11] New Scientist, "Can coal live up to its clean promise?" March 27, 2008
[12] 2006 IRS form 990, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
[13] Lobbying Report, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, 2007, Greenpeace Investigations website
[14] Keating, passim.
[15] U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Inventory of U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006" EPA

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