Coal Tattoo

Did you hear? Ken Salazar likes coal

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Maybe they were make-up quotes, to show the mining industry that he was kidding about all that stuff on how off-shore wind power could take the place of coal-fired power plants. Or maybe it was an effort to avoid the kind of backlash that forced EPA officials to issue a second news release, after media reports indicated they had issued a moratorium on mountaintop removal permits.

Or maybe it was the fact that the reporters who got to ask questions didn’t  query him at all about how the Interior Department’s plans for the buffer zone rule would really help protect the environment.

But one thing was clear from today’s brief press conference by Obama Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: He likes coal. And he went to great lengths to assure anyone who was listening (especially coalfield politicians and mining operators?) that the action by his department wasn’t going to block any permits or stop one single coal anywhere from being mined.

The public has no idea how Salazar plans to interpret the 1983 buffer zone rule he is hoping to put back in place  by throwing out a Bush administration regulatory change.

And we don’t really know exactly what Salazar and his staff think is wrong with the rule — What about it is legally deficient? What about it doesn’t adequately protect waterways and communities? Let alone, what about it doesn’t pass Mr. Secretary’s smell test?

But by golly, we know how much Salazar loves coal … take a look at his responses to several different questions:

1. “Coal was and will remain an important part of our national energy portfolio.”

2.  “We will continue to need coal as a significant part of our energy portfolio. We need to do everything we can to research and deploy advanced coal technologies. You are not going to shut off the 50 percent of electricity that today comes from coal.”

3. “It is important to look for how we can continue to use coal in a way that deals with the carbon dioxide emissions that come from coal. If we can figure out a way to deal with the carbon dioxide emissions, we will use a very significant amount of coal.”

Got it?

In Salazar’s defense, I thought maybe this was all just a response to the questions from reporters, who focused on wanting to know if any of this crazy environmental protection stuff was going to slow down coal production.

But then I looked at Salazar’s prepared statement for the press conference, and it included four paragraphs (our of 16 total, if you don’t count, “With that, I’d be happy to take questions) that focused on showing how much the Interior Department loves coal.

Maybe the decision on how the buffer zone will be enforced will wait until Obama and Salazar have someone in charge over at OSM. But that’s another story …