The Politics of Coal : Vox Politics The Politics of Coal
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The Politics of Coal

John McCain's campaign is seizing on an unscripted comment by Joe Biden to question Barack Obama's commitment to developing clean coal technology. Biden, working a rope line in Maumee, Ohio last week was asked why the campaign supports clean coal when wind and solar power are "flourishing." Biden says, "We're not supporting clean coal," later adding, "No coal plants here in America." (At the same time, Biden seems to suggest that the US should develop clean coal technology for export, warning, "Guess what, China is going to burn 300 years of bad coal unless we figure out how to clean their coal up.")

The McCain campaign quickly announced the formation of a "Coalition to Protect Coal Jobs," during a conference call with Congresswoman Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), former Congressman Scott McInnis (R-CO), RNC Chairman Mike Duncan, and former Virginia Governor and Senator George Allen (who knows how damaging an unscripted YouTube moment can be).

For its part, the Obama campaign insists it does support investment in clean coal technology, as part of its ten-year, $150 billion dollar initiative to develop clean energy of all kinds. (McCain proposes $2 billion per year in federal subsidies for clean coal, plus more limited funding for "basic research" on wind, tide, and solar energy.) "The Obama-Biden Department of Energy is committed to developing five 'first-of-a-kind' commercial scale coal-fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration here in the United States," says Biden spokesman David Wade.

Coal generates a lot of political heat because it supplies more than half the nation's electricity, is a significant contributor of greenhouse gases, and because five of the leading coal-producing states (Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado, New Mexico, and Ohio) are battlegrounds in the November election.

UPDATE: The Obama-Biden campaign has now announced the creation of a "Clean Coal Jobs Task Force, aimed at furthering Senator Obama and Senator Biden's commitment to creating jobs and energy independence through clean coal."