The audacity of coal

Why is one of the world's largest coal companies citing Energy Secretary Steven Chu as a dirty fossil fuel booster?

Published February 4, 2009 11:27AM (EST)

At the great site,, Michelle Leder pores through SEC filings so that the rest of us don't have to. On Tuesday, she discovered an interesting slide in a presentation included in the 8-K filing of Peabody Energy, which bills itself as "the world's largest private sector coal company."

The slide includes quotes from President Obama supporting the rollout of clean coal technology and Lisa Jackson, the new EPA chairwoman, saying, "Coal is a vital resource in our country." But the most intriguing quote is from Energy Secretary Steven "Coal is my worst nightmare" Chu.

Here's what Peabody says Chu said at his confirmation hearing:

"The coal resources in the United States are immense. I am hopeful and optimistic that we can use those resources in a clean way. It's really a question of technology. I think we will be using that great natural resource."

Leder thought that such a sentiment seemed quite a long way from the "coal is my worst nightmare" sound bite. So I went back and checked the Congressional Quarterly's transcript of the hearing. Here's what he actually said. Italics mine.

"Well, so, specifically, let me just say that as I said with Senator Dorgan, that the coal resources in the United States are immense. And I am very hopeful and optimistic that we can figure out a way to use those resources in a clean way. And so, I think it's, again, it's a question of science and technology and really putting the pedal to the floor and trying to develop as quickly as possible the capture and sequestration technology. I'm very hopeful that this will occur and I think that we will be using that great natural resource."

Notice what is left out? Dr. Chu's hope is that we will "figure out" a way to develop carbon capture and sequestration technology "as quickly as possible." Because without such technology, there is no such thing as clean coal.

Naturally Peabody did not see fit to mention that Chu prefaced all his remarks on coal by saying that "If the world continues to use coal in the way that we are using it today and by the world, I mean in particular, not just the United States, but China, India, and Russia, it's a pretty bad dream."

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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