Obama touts miners’ union, praises ‘clean coal’

August 5, 2010 by Ken Ward Jr.

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.

7 Responses to “Obama touts miners’ union, praises ‘clean coal’”

  1. FactsFirst says:

    “The truth is that CCS, while considered promising by many experts, also is riddled with potential problems, uncertainty, and high costs . . .”

    Substitute for CCS in Ken’s quote any one of the following–wind, solar, natural gas with CCS, perhaps even nuclear—and that characterization would apply as well. So what do we do?

  2. Taylor says:


    Not true; the other energy sources you name have been around for some time, there’s relatively little “uncertainty” about them. And while fracking for natural gas is associated w/groundwater contamination, solar and wind are not, nor do you have to worry about leakage and seismic activity with solar & wind.

    As for expense, the monetary costs of coal-derived electricity are low **only** because so many of its costs are externalized onto others . . . costs like health effects of air and water pollution, lowered property values, diminished quality of life of coalfield residents, damage to roads from heavy trucks, etc. Oh, and I almost forgot: subsidies. Take a look at this article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/aug/03/fossil-fuel-subsidies-renewables

  3. armored face conveyor says:

    While the president is certainly entitled to his opinion, union representation did not prevent the disaster at Jim Walter’s in Alabama a few years ago. Also is it internally consistant when the president says government is best when it is not run by special interests and then says workers should join a union? Workers should have the option to join a union if they want

  4. Casey says:

    Taylor, I may be wrong but the cited article may be misleading since it quotes absolute dollar amounts for subsides as opposed to percents or cents per kilowatt. The fact that renewables are such a small percent of generation makes the cited comparison misleading.

  5. Ken Ward Jr. says:


    I need to read the report cited by Taylor … as you might recall, there was a discussion on this very issue previously on Coal Tattoo.

    The problem I’ve having reconciling these things is this: OK, if the absolute dollar amounts for subsidies (showing fossil fuels with more money) are misleading … I’m still not sure that a per kilowatt is the best way to judge it either … why? Because forms of new energy (forms of all sorts of new things our society wants or needs) often get or need big government subsidies early in the game, when they are being researched and developed. So I’m not sure how if I were setting out to write a good report on this issue I would do it.

    If anybody reading has better citations to more detailed examinations of this, please pass them on.


  6. Thomas Rodd says:

    More than ten years ago (maybe more than fifteen), an expert on the politics of climate change policy told me that seventeen (out of four-hundred-odd) Congressional districts were effectively blocking the enactment of laws that could prevent turning this planet into a hot, dangerous place that is hostile to human civilization.

    I’m sure that was an oversimplification, but not much has changed since then. And, under this scenario, we here in West Virginia apparently have three of those districts.

    I’m very proud to be a West Virginian. but not on this score.

  7. Bob Kincaid says:


    Though not directly salient to the issue of coal, per se, President Obama’s statement about the values of union membership seem at odds with his own agenda.

    On the campaign trail, Candidate Obama touted the Employee Free Choice Act, which certainly would’ve resulted in higher percentages of union membership in this country (and arguably better working conditions at Massey, among other non-union employers). As president, however, Mr. Obama uttered hardly a peep when members of his own party (Lincoln, Landrieu, NebNelson) effectively killed EFCA in the Senate when they had a chance to drive it through.

    This is the dilemma Labor faces: continuing to promote a president who didn’t even holler for the bus to stop as it rolled over them or being tough with him and letting him know the days of the Democratic Party taking Labor for granted are over.

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