2008 US Presidential Candidate Positions on Coal

From Global Energy Monitor

The 2008 U.S. presidential candidates all support coal power in some form. While disagreeing on how to handle the environmental threats of coal burning and mining, all the candidates stress the importance of energy independence and substantial U.S. coal reserves. Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support “clean coal” power plants, as well as research and investment in coal-to-liquid technology if it produces 20 percent less lifetime pollution compared with gasoline. Republican candidates John McCain, Mike Huckabee, and Ron Paul also favor the continued use of coal power, including investing in clean coal and coal-to-liquid technology, but with fewer restrictions than advocated by the Democrats.

Despite cross-partisan support for clean coal and coal-to-liquid technology, the issues remain controversial in terms of technological, environmental, and financial viability. In addition, proponents of these coal technologies have been accused of ignoring the substantial environmental and human hazards associated with coal mining. While some of the candidates, such as Clinton and Obama, have favorable overall ratings from environmentalists, [1] they have all been criticized for supporting clean coal and coal-to-liquid.

Barack Obama

(See also Barack Obama statements on coal.)

Barack Obama has called climate change, “one of the greatest moral challenges of our generation” and has proposed investing $150 billion over ten years to research and develop renewables, biofuels, efficiency, “clean coal,” and other clean technologies. Despite his insistence on the importance of low-emissions coal plants and developing clean coal technologies, Obama does not support a moratorium on new coal development until these technologies are viable. [2] He has stated, however, that he “will consider whatever policy tools are necessary, including standards that ban new traditional coal facilities, to ensure that we move quickly to commercialize and deploy low carbon coal technology.” Obama claims a “stringent cap” on carbon will render it uneconomic to build new, traditional coal facilities and will discourage the further use of existing but “inefficient” facilities. Existing coal plants would be retrofitted with coal capture and sequestration technology if and when it becomes available.[3]

On January 4, 2007, Obama helped introduce the “Coal-to-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2007.” The bill was intended to help grow the coal-to-liquids industry through tax incentives and public-private partnerships. However, while the bill may have appealed to the coal industry in his home state of Illinois, he was strongly criticized by environmentalists.[4] Obama then qualified his position by saying he would only support liquefied coal if it emitted 20 percent less carbon over its lifecycle than conventional fuels. [5]

On June 19, 2007, Obama voted in favor of an amendment to establish a loan program for projects to produce syngas from coal and other feedstocks, while working to lower greenhouse gas emissions. [6] The amendment did not pass.

On October 8, 2007, Obama reaffirmed his support for "clean coal" technology but stated his support for "a ban on new traditional coal facilities":

And we must find a way to stop coal from polluting our atmosphere without pretending that our nation's most abundant energy source will just go away. It won't. It will also require taking steps to ensure that China's coal emissions are curbed as well. Already, some coal pollution from China's dirty plants is making its way to California. That's why we must invest in clean coal technologies that we can use at home and share with the world. Until those technologies are available, I will rely on the carbon cap and whatever tools are necessary to stop new dirty coal plants from being built in America - including a ban on new traditional coal facilities.[7]

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has acknowledged that coal-fired power plants are the largest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and are also responsible for dangerous emissions of mercury and other pollutants. She supports the development of technologies to sequester and store carbon-dioxide emissions from coal plants, and has proposed immediate funding of 10 large scale carbon capture and storage projects, along with the implementation of a regulatory framework for carbon sequestration. In the meantime, all new coal plants must be designed to be capable of adding capture and storage technology when it becomes available. [8]

In addition, Clinton has proposed that before a new coal plant can be built, state utility commissions should be required to evaluate whether the energy services provided by the plant could be met through “cost-effective investments in energy efficiency.” Clinton supports coal-to-liquid fuels on the condition that they emit 20 percent less carbon over their lifecycle than conventional fuels. On June 19, 2007, along with Senator Obama, she voted in favor of an unsuccessful amendment to establish a loan program for projects to produce syngas from coal and other feedstocks.[9].

Clinton on coal: “I think we have got to take a hard look at clean coal. I have advocated carbon sequestration, I have advocated power plants looking for ways to use coal more cleanly and efficiently. I doubt very much that using coal in liquid form for transportation could ever pass the environmental test, but I am willing to do the research to prove one way or another.

The political pressure [to use coal] will remain intense, and I think you have got to admit that coal -- of which we have a great and abundant supply in America -- is not going away. So how do we best manage the possibility of using clean coal, but having very strict environmental standards? It is not going to do us any good if we substitute one dirty energy source for another.”[10]

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John McCain

(See also John McCain statements on coal.)

John McCain supports increasing coal power production, while advocating for the implementation of carbon capture and sequestering technologies on coal plants. McCain has expressed optimism that we will find ways to burn coal without emitting dangerous levels of greenhouse gases. “The United States has coal reserves more abundant than Saudi Arabia's oil reserves. We found a way to cut down acid rain pollutants from burning coal, and we can find a way to use our coal resources without emitting excessive greenhouse gases.” [11]

McCain has also stated that he would support coal gasification research and development. “I'd like to see coal gasification, and I would subsidize R&D in that effort. I'm all for government funding basic R&D, by the way. I really believe that we're going to have to use a kind of a coal [technology] that does not emit the greenhouse gases that present-day coal-fired utility plants do.” [12]

McCain believes the science supporting global warming is accurate, however his plan to address the problem does not outline specific policies in detail besides advocating for a cap and trade program, and stating he is against a carbon tax. In 2003, he co-sponsored the first Senate bill to fight global warming through supporting nuclear power, clean coal and new fossil fuel exploration in the U.S. [13] More broadly, he takes the role of government to be limited in developing clean technologies.[14]

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Mike Huckabee

Mike Huckabee offers an energy platform largely driven by the importance of energy independence and his religious belief that Christianity mandates the human stewardship of the earth. [15] He supports coal power, including liquefied coal and clean coal.[16]

Huckabee has stated support of a cap and trade system, but not a carbon tax, and is wary of greenhouse gas emissions caps. Although Huckabee is not convinced that global warming is caused by humans, he advocates a religious and moral responsibility to protect the earth from the damaging effects of climate change.[17]

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Ron Paul

Ron Paul is a self-avowed “environmentalist,” however he believes that environmental regulation should not be the responsibility of government. Paul supports the use of coal, stipulating that it should be used without harming the environment or people. He supports this possibility via his faith in the development of technology that will allow coal to be used without generating harmful pollution. He does not support a carbon tax and has stated he will work to repeal federal regulations and taxes that “impede the development of new energy sources.”[18]

According to Paul, “Coal is a source of energy, and it should be used, but it has to be used without ever hurting anybody. I think we're smart enough to do it. Technology is improving all the time. If oil goes to $150 a barrel because we've bombed Iran, coal might be something that we can become more independent with. I think technology is super, and we are capable of knowing how to use coal without polluting other people's property.”[19]

Paul believes the evidence that global warming is human caused is inconclusive and has stated he does not consider climate change to be a “major problem threatening civilization.”

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  1. League of Conservation Voters 2008 Voter Guide with Candidate Rankings
  2. "Obama on the Record" Amanda Griscom Little, Grist, July 30, 2007
  3. Barack Obama Energy Plan
  4. “The Green Grip with Obama: Liquefied Coal is Still…Coal” Elizabeth Williams, Washington Post, January 10, 2007
  5. Obama qualifies his support for coal-to-liquid fuel Grist, June 13, 2007
  6. U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes June 19, 2007
  7. [http://www.barackobama.com/2007/10/08/remarks_of_senator_barack_obam_28.php "Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Real Leadership for a Clean Energy Future, Portsmouth, NH 10/8/07," Obama '08 website
  8. “Hillary Clinton’s Climate and Energy Plan” Grist, November 5, 2007
  9. U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes June 19, 2007
  10. "Clinton on the Record," Amanda Griscom Little interview, Grist, August 9, 2007
  11. " John McCain's Speech On Energy Policy," John McCain official website, April 23, 2007
  12. "McCain on the Record," Amanda Griscom Little, Grist, October 1, 2007
  13. Sen. John McCain The Daily Green, October 25, 2007
  14. “No Climate for Old Men," Joseph Romm, Salon, February 8, 2008
  15. Mike Huckabee Statement of Issues Mike Huckabee official website
  16. "Huckabee on the Record," Amanda Griscom Little, Grist, October 20, 2007
  17. “Mike Huckabee on Climate Change” Physics Today blog, January 2, 2008
  18. Ron Paul Energy Statement
  19. “Paul on the Record” Amanda Griscom Little, Interview with Ron Paul, Grist, October 16, 2007

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