The US recently passed a bill in the house of representatives called the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009. Unsurprisingly, the bill has raised the ire of fossil fuel lobbyists on Capitol Hill who have been fighting such a thing since the Kyoto protocol was first proposed more than a decade ago.
One of the biggest lobby groups in the fight to water down the bill is the coal industry, who stands to lose big time if this bill is passed. A price on carbon in the US will cost the coal industry dearly, as they will be forced to pay for using our atmosphere as a dumping ground for their harmful by products.
Within the coal lobby itself, the biggest player is a multi-million dollar powerhouse called the "American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity" (ACCCE), an organisation receiving big bucks from major coal companies like Peabody Energy.
A glance at ACCCE's website and its slick advertising would have you believe that the US can continue to burn "clean" green coal while at the same time deal with the issue of climate change. Its website asks: "can we use coal and meet the commitment of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in response to climate change concerns? In a word — yes!" The reality is that the answer is actually an emphatic "no." Coal continues to be the largest contributor to climate change in the world, and emits around 1.7 times more carbon per unit of energy when burned than natural gas and 1.25 times as much as oil. The US coal lobby is pushing the idea that all this greenhouse gas will be buried under our feet using carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. However, this technology remains at least a decade away according to the most optimistic reports - too late to offer a solid solution for significantly reducing emissions in time to avoid the runaway effects of climate change.
Fossil fuel lobbyists are fiercely fighting US attempts to make the world's dirtiest power sector pay for its carbon emissions
As you might have guessed, the notion that ACCCE cares about climate change is a far cry from the message the people behind the organisation were touting only a few years earlier.
The President of Communications for ACCCE is a gentleman named Joe Lucas and he's been involved in the US energy lobby for much of his career. Prior to working for ACCCE, Lucas was the vice president for another coal-industry lobby group calling itself the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED). The President of CEED, a gentleman named Steve Miller, is now the President of ACCCE. These two, Joe and Steve, have been partners in coal for a long time.
Under the CEED flag, Lucas and Miller played a central role in the campaign to confuse the public and politicians about the realities of climate change and the state of climate science. In 1998 CEED produced a video called "Broken Promises Shattered Dreams" arguing that the Kyoto protocol is "just plain wrong: wrong in its science, wrong in its approach, wrong to surrender, wrong for America."
Up until 2006 you could still find messages on the CEED website denying and downplaying the realities of climate change, like this one: "We've all heard of climate change or global warming. Many of us even have our own opinion about whether this is a serious problem or an exaggerated concern." And this: "Some scientists believe that the one degree of warming that has taken place over the past 100 years is evidence that potential catastrophic climate change is an imminent threat. However, other equally-qualified experts are not so sure."
Fast forward to the early days of the 2009 presidential race where you had the front-runners in both parties stating that something needed to be done about the threat of climate change. No serious contender for President questioned the realities of climate change and it's no coincidence that it was at this same time that Miller and Lucas dropped their climate-denying ways.
Miller and Lucas were savvy enough to realise that delay through denial was not going to work with any incoming President, regardless of the party he or she represented. So in late 2008, ACCCE was born out of a reported sum of $40 million from the coal industry. Gone now are the politically incorrect statements downplaying the certainty of climate science and in its place is an ardent commitment to "slow, stop and then reverse the growth of man-made greenhouse gases." ACCCE has been running this message all over the United States with CNN and Superbowl commercials, event sponsorship, billboards and road shows popping up all over the country.
Miller, Lucas and the coal lobby's message might now be politically correct, but unfortunately for all of us their tactic of delay remains the same.