Coal Tattoo

President Barack Obama is introduced by AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka before he spoke about jobs and the economy during an address before the AFL-CIO Executive Council in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2010. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

In appearance yesterday before the AFL-CIO Executive Council, President Obama touted unionization of coal-mine workers, saying:

But it is my profound belief that companies are stronger when their workers are getting paid well and have decent benefits and are treated with dignity and respect. It is my profound belief that our government works best when it’s not being run on behalf of special interests, but it’s being run on behalf of the public interest, and that the dedication of public servants reflects that.

So FDR I think said — he was asked once what he thought about unions. He said, “If I was a worker in a factory and I wanted to improve my life, I would join a union.”

Well, I tell you what. I think that’s true for workers generally. I think if I was a coalminer, I’d want a union representing me to make sure that I was safe and you did not have some of the tragedies that we’ve been seeing in the coal industry.

Now, President Obama also repeated his strong support for “clean coal,” saying:

Together, we’re jumpstarting a new American clean energy industry — an industry with the potential to generate perhaps millions of jobs building wind turbines and solar panels, and manufacturing the batteries for the cars of the future, building nuclear plants, developing clean coal technology. There are other countries that are fighting for those jobs, in China and India and in Germany and other parts of Europe. But the United States doesn’t play for second place. As long as I’m President, I’m going to keep fighting night and day to make sure that we win those jobs, that those are jobs that are created right here in the United States of America and that your members are put to work.

Interestingly, the coal industry promoters over at America’s Power were tweeting this, saying:

In a speech today, @BarackObama said clean-coal technology is integral in “jump-starting a new American clean-energy industry”

But at about the same time, the National Mining Association’s “Mining Fan” Twitter feed was promoting exactly the opposite message — that the Obama administration is just against all coal, passing around Sen. John Barrrasso’s allegations about the administration’s position:

Today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) released the following statement about the Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Nancy Sutley, and her recent public comments dismissing clean coal as imaginary. Barrasso also sent a letter to President Obama requesting clarification on whether Ms. Sutley’s position on clean coal reflects the Administration’s official policy or not.

“The President’s principal environmental policy adviser is directly contradicting the President’s own clean coal task force. What are the American people supposed to believe? Does the President support clean coal or not? Wyoming supports clean coal. We are committed to ensuring the long-term viability of this valuable American resource that provides roughly half of our nation’s electricity. It is time for the President to decide if he shares in our goal or agrees with Ms. Sutley.”

The real problem here, of course, is that the coal industry wants to have it both ways when it comes to climate change and carbon capture and storage.  At the same time industry officials try to convince the public that “clean coal” in the form of CCS is here, they argue for slower emissions reductions — or not greenhouse gas limits at all — and for more and more money for research and development of the technology.

The truth is that CCS, while considered promising by many experts, also is riddled with potential problems, uncertainty, and high costs … that’s not a popular thing for coalfield political leaders to say, but it’s the way it is.