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Friends of the Earth: Clinton, Obama Coal Comments Criticized by Environmental Group

March 20, 2008
1:27 PM

CONTACT: Friends of the Earth
Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

Clinton, Obama Coal Comments Criticized by Environmental Group
Presidential candidates’ parroting of coal industry talking points raise questions about their commitment to clean energy; Clinton even equivocates on mountaintop removal

WASHINGTON, DC - March 20 - A national environmental group criticized both Democratic presidential candidates today for recent pro-coal comments.

Senator Hillary Clinton expressed enthusiasm for coal and failed to condemn mountaintop removal during an interview yesterday on West Virginia Public Radio. Today, Senator Barack Obama delivered a speech in West Virginia advocating so-called “clean coal” as a solution to global warming.

“These comments raise serious questions about whether the Democratic candidates are as committed to clean energy as they claim to be,” Friends of the Earth Action President Brent Blackwelder said. “Coal is not clean—period. And it is especially dirty and damaging when it is mined through the mountaintop removal process, in which mountains are literally blown to pieces, wiping vast swaths of nature off the map and polluting valleys, streams and rivers.”

In her interview, Clinton said “coal fits in very importantly” to America’s energy future, arguing that “the challenge is how we are going to continue using coal” and using the coal industry’s misleading term “clean coal” to discuss proposed carbon capture and sequestration technology, which has not yet been proved to be technologically feasible or commercially viable. When asked about the devastating practice of mountaintop mining, Clinton expressed concern but then attempted to frame the issue as a choice between an “economic and environmental trade-off,” which demonstrated a fundamental lack of understanding of the issue.

“This jobs angle is so phony. Coal production in the U.S. has increased in the past 50 years but coal jobs have dropped more than 80 percent. This is not helping local economies. Mountaintop mining in particular harms the communities where the mining takes place, which tend to be the most impoverished communities in Appalachia,” Blackwelder said. “We need to envision a new healthy green economy for West Virginia, one in which we conserve energy and transition to clean energy alternatives, including solar and wind. It’s time to cut the coal.”

Clinton’s mountaintop removal comments yesterday have come under fire from the green and progressive netroots. Obama has spoken out against mountaintop removal, but his position on coal still leaves much to be desired.

In his speech today in West Virginia, Obama advocated “investing in renewable sources of energy, and in clean coal technology, and creating up to 5 million new green jobs in the bargain, including new clean coal jobs.” And his record leaves much room for improvement. Obama has worked closely with the coal industry in the past, supports coal subsidies and repeatedly uses the inaccurate term “clean coal” in his communications.

“These candidates need to stop pandering and start being leaders,” Blackwelder said. “We’re in the midst of a global warming crisis and we need a president who will push for real solutions. The Democratic candidates’ plans are better than anything we’ve seen from John McCain, but being better than McCain is not enough. Our planet faces a crisis the likes of which it has never seen. Where is the bold leadership our planet is calling for?”

Friends of the Earth Action ( provides extra muscle to our sister organization, Friends of the Earth, in legislative battles affecting our environment. FoE Action and our affiliated PAC also serve as Friends of the Earth's political arm, making thoughtful political endorsements, providing direct support to candidates, and placing environmentalists in the field on critical campaigns. Friends of the Earth Action's mission is to promote a clean, healthy and just world and to ensure that we have lawmakers who will work to protect the environment.


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