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. 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.
Obama has historically been a proponent of the coal industry, and is a staunch supporter of "clean coal" technologies. In 1997, he voted to use sales taxes to help reopen closed coal mines and create "incentives to attract new businesses that use coal." In 2001, he voted for legislation that provided $3.5 billion in loan guarantees to construct coal-fired power pants with no means of controlling carbon emissions. Before voting for the bill, Obama said, "I am a strong supporter, I think, of downstate coal interests and our need to prop up and improve the outputs downstate." In 2003, Obama voted to allow $300 million in bonds for the construction and expansion of coal plants. When he ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he announced that "there's always going to be a role for coal" in Illinois.
On January 4, 2007, Obama helped introduce the Coal-to-Liquids 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. 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. 
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. 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.
Below is a list of statements made by Barack Obama and his campaign about coal issues.
- "I am also pleased that the bill includes funding I requested for research into combination plug-in hybrid and flexible fuel vehicles that could travel up to 500 miles per gallon of gasoline, as well as more investment into clean-coal technology." Obama statement after voting for the Bush administration's Energy Policy Act of 2005, which included a $1.8 billion tax credit for investments in clean-coal facilities, in June 2005.
- “To counter the threat climate change poses to America’s future, we must invest in clean, domestically produced energy that leaves no environmental footprint. Carbon sequestration is a first step we can take to solving the climate crisis by limiting the emissions of existing plants.” Statement in conjunction with introducing an amendment to provide an additional $200 million for the Department of Energy’s coal sequestration initiative, in March 2007.
- "We'll have to deal with the fact that many of our power plants are coal burning, and consider what investments we're willing to make in coal sequestration. If we make sure that the burdens and benefits of a strong environmental policy are evenly spread across the economy, then people will want to see us take on this problem in an aggressive way." Obama explanation of how to gaining political consensus for his goal of 80 percent reductions by 2050, in an interview in July 2007.
- "If the technology exists for us to use coal in a clean fashion, then that is something all of us should welcome, particularly because China and India are building coal-fired power plants at a rapid rate, and they likely have lifespans of several decades. Coal is a cheaper resource, and they're going to be figuring out a way to exploit it, so we should help to find technologies that will ensure that if it is used, it is used cleanly. The U.S. is recognized as the global leader in understanding better geologic coal-sequestration technologies. If we abandon that leadership, we risk leaving the rest of the planet wide open to investing billions in polluting infrastructure. But I stress again that my position has been consistent throughout: If we are using coal in the absence of these clean technologies, then we are going to be worsening the trend of global warming, and that is something that we can't do." Interview, July 2007.
- "I believe that relying on the ingenuity of the free market, coupled with a strong carbon cap, is the best way to reduce carbon emissions rather than an arbitrary freeze on development." Answer to interview question about whether Obama supports a freeze on new coal development in the US until clean-coal technologies become available, July 2007.
- “We could invest in renewable sources of energy and in clean coal technology and create up to 5 million new green jobs in the bargain, including new clean coal jobs.” Campaign stop in West Virginia in April 2008.
- Obama "helped lead the fight for clean coal to protect our environment and save good-paying American jobs." Obama-sponsored Kentucky ad depicting Obama as a friend of the coal industry in May 2008.
- "Barack Obama believes in clean Kentucky coal." Direct mailer from the Obama campaign distributed in Kentucky before the state's May 20, 2008 primary.
- "Obama will significantly increase the resources devoted to the commercialization and deployment of low-carbon coal technologies. Obama 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 Energy Plan, July 2008.
- According to Obama's Energy Plan announced in August 2008:
- "Obama will strategically invest $150 billion over 10 years to accelerate the commercialization of plug‐in hybrids, promote development of commercial scale renewable energy, encourage energy efficiency, invest in low emissions coal plants, advance the next generation of biofuels and fuel infrastructure, and begin transition to a new digital electricity grid."
- "Carbon capture and storage technologies hold enormous potential to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions as we power our economy with domestically produced and secure energy. As a U.S. Senator, Obama has worked tirelessly to ensure that clean coal technology becomes commercialized. An Obama administration will provide incentives to accelerate private sector investment in commercial scale zero‐carbon coal facilities. In order to maximize the speed with which we advance this critical technology, Obama will instruct DOE to enter into public private partnerships to develop 5 “first‐of‐a‐kind” commercial scale coal‐fired plants with carbon capture and sequestration." Obama fact sheet, August 2008
- "As president, I will tap our national gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power." Democratic National Convention, August 28, 2008.
- "What we're going to have to do is to approach it through alternative energy, like solar, and wind, and biodiesel, and, yes, nuclear energy, clean-coal technology. And, you know, I've got a plan for us to make a significant investment over the next 10 years to do that." First Presidential Debate, September 26, 2008.
- "To create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. That means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. And yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America ... I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. This year, I am eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy; and I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future – because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation." State of the Union Address, January 27, 2010.
Carbon Capture and Storage
- "If we can develop the technology to capture the carbon pollution released by coal, it can create jobs and provide energy well into the future," President Barack Obama said in a meeting with Republican and Democratic state governors, February 2010.
- "We must continue down the path of reducing our reliance on foreign oil. Like corn to ethanol for gasoline engines, we also can make soybeans, animal fats, and coal into diesel. We have the technology, we have the interest, and we have the need. We just need the federal commitment... Creating a Renewable Diesel Standard will help alleviate diesel costs, create jobs, promote rural development, and help insulate our economy from oil shocks. And it will create new markets for Illinois soybeans and Illinois coal. We should pass this legislation immediately to take another concrete step towards energy independence." Statement from Obama's Senate office in November 2005, upon introducing legislation calling for a Renewable Diesel Standard that would require 2 billion gallons of diesel alternatives by the year 2015.
- "The people I meet in town hall meetings back home would rather fill their cars with fuel made from coal reserves in Southern Illinois than with fuel made from crude reserves in Saudi Arabia. We already have the technology to do this in a way that's both clean and efficient. What we've been lacking is the political will. This common sense, bipartisan legislation will greatly increase investment in coal-to-liquid fuel technology, which will create jobs and lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Illinois Basin Coal has more untapped energy potential than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Instead of enriching the Saudis, we can use these reserves to bring a renaissance for Illinois coal." Statement by Obama on introducing S.3325, the "Coal-To-Liquid Fuel Promotion Act of 2006," with Senator Jim Bunning (R-KY), in June 2006. 
- "Illinois basin coal has more untapped energy potential than the oil reserves of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait combined. Senator Obama believes it is crucial that we invest in technologies to use these resources to reduce our dependence on foreign oil." Statment by Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor, in January 2007.
- "Senator Obama supports research into all technologies to help solve our climate change and energy dependence problems, including shifting our energy use to renewable fuels and investing in technology that could make coal a clean-burning source of energy. However, unless and until this technology is perfected, Senator Obama will not support the development of any coal-to-liquid fuels unless they emit at least 20% less life-cycle carbon than conventional fuels. If an amendment is offered on the Senate floor that would provide incentives for - or mandate the use of - coal-to-liquid fuels without these environmental safeguards, Senator Obama will oppose the amendment." June 2007 email from Obama's Senate office to environmental groups, clarifying his position on coal-to-liquid fuels in light of the bill he co-sponsored with Senator Bunning.
- "Achieving energy independence and significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions are two of the greatest challenges America faces. With the right technological innovations, coal has the potential to be a cleaner burning, domestic alternative to imported oil. However we are not there yet. The Bunning amendment would have been premature in requiring the production of billions of gallons of coal-to-liquids without providing strong environmental safeguards to ensure that this new fuel alleviates, not worsens, our climate crisis. The Tester amendment, on the other hand, gives us the tools to determine whether we can make coal into a clean fuel source. We cannot solve the climate crisis without addressing coal – which generates half of America's electricity... Moving forward, I believe we should only invest in coal-to-liquid fuels that burn at least 20 percent less lifecycle carbon emissions than conventional fuels. I also introduced a low-carbon fuel standard to mandate a 10 percent reduction in emissions for all vehicle fuels by 2020, with incentives for producers to make their fuels more efficient and to exceed that level, without prejudging which fuel will turn out to be the best for our environment and our economy." Statement released by Senate Office of Obama regarding the Coal-to-Liquids bill under consideration by Congress, in June 2007.
- "I was always firm that if the life-cycle carbon emissions of coal-to-liquid were higher than gasoline, we couldn't do it because it would contradict my position on reducing greenhouse gases. But I also believe that, because of the abundance of coal in the U.S., coal-based fuels could be a substitute for some of the oil we import from the Middle East, as long as we can reduce the resulting CO2 emissions to 20 percent below current levels from petroleum-based fuels." July 2007 interview.
- "Our original bill on coal-to-liquids -- which generated a lot of heat in the environmental community, no pun intended -- proposed $200 million for demonstration projects, to see where this technology might take us... But I stress again that my position has been consistent throughout: If we are using coal in the absence of these clean technologies, then we are going to be worsening the trend of global warming, and that is something that we can't do." July 2007 interview.
Coal and Global Warming
- "We'll also need to find a way to use coal - America's most abundant fossil fuel - without adding harmful greenhouse gases to the environment." May 2007 announcement of Obama initiative to curb climate change.
- "I would not make huge investments or try to take technologies to scale that worsen the climate-change situation. But it may be appropriate for the federal government to make small investments in pilot projects to see if we can make dirty fuels cleaner... My general view is that we should experiment with all sorts of potential energy sources - don't prejudge what works and what doesn't, but insist that we have very strict standards in terms of where we want to end up, and enforce those standards vigorously." July 2007 interview.
- "We are not acting as good stewards of God's Earth when our bottom line puts the size of our profits before the future of our planet." October 2007 speech on climate change.
- "Businesses don't own the sky, the public does, and if we want them to stop polluting it, we have to put a price on all pollution. It's time to make the cleaner way of doing business the more profitable way of doing business." October 2007 speech on energy policy.
- “There are environmental consequences to coal extraction, just as there are with any energy source." Statement to a group of environmentalists opposed to mountaintop mining at a meeting in West Virginia in April 2008.
Cap and Trade
- "Let me sort of describe my overall policy. What I've said is that we would put a cap and trade system in place that is as aggressive, if not more aggressive, than anybody else's out there. I was the first to call for a 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gases emitted would be charged to the polluter. That will create a market in which whatever technologies are out there that are being presented, whatever power plants that are being built, that they would have to meet the rigors of that market and the ratcheted down caps that are being placed, imposed every year. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted. That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing I've said with respect to coal, I haven't been some coal booster. What I have said is that for us to take coal off the table as an ideological matter as opposed to saying if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way, we should pursue it. So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can. It's just that it will bankrupt them," during an interview on January 17, 2008.
- "Obama supports implementation of a market-based cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. Obama's cap-and-trade system will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100 percent auction ensures that all polluters pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these emission rights away to coal and oil companies. Some of the revenue generated by auctioning allowances will be used to support the development of clean energy, to invest in energy efficiency improvements, and to address transition costs, including helping American workers affected by this economic transition." Obama Energy Plan, July 2008.
- "Barack Obama supports implementation of an economy‐wide cap‐and‐trade system to reduce carbon emissions by the amount scientists say is necessary: 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050. This market mechanism has worked before and will give all American consumers and businesses the incentives to use their ingenuity to develop economically effective solutions to climate change." Obama's Energy Plan announced in August 2008.
- "Obama's cap‐and‐trade policy will require all pollution credits to be auctioned. A 100 percent auction ensures that all industries pay for every ton of emissions they release, rather than giving these valuable emission rights away to companies on the basis of their past pollution. A small portion of the receipts generated by auctioning allowances ($15 billion per year) will be used to support the development of clean energy, invest in energy efficiency improvements, and help develop the next generation of biofuels and clean energy vehicles – measures that will help the economy and help meet the emissions reduction targets. All remaining receipts will be used for rebates and other transition relief to ensure that families and communities are not adversely impacted by the transition to a new energy, low carbon economy." Obama's Energy Plan announced in August 2008.
"A New Energy Economy"
- "This is one of the biggest challenges of our times. And it is absolutely critical that we understand this is not just a challenge, it's an opportunity, because if we create a new energy economy, we can create five million new jobs, easily, here in the United States. It can be an engine that drives us into the future the same way the computer was the engine for economic growth over the last couple of decades. And we can do it, but we're going to have to make an investment. The same way the computer was originally invented by a bunch of government scientists who were trying to figure out, for defense purposes, how to communicate, we've got to understand that this is a national security issue, as well. And that's why we've got to make some investments and I've called for investments in solar, wind, geothermal. Contrary to what Sen. McCain keeps on saying, I favor nuclear power as one component of our overall energy mix. But this is another example where I think it is important to look at the record. Sen. McCain and I actually agree on something. He said a while back that the big problem with energy is that for 30 years, politicians in Washington haven't done anything. What Sen. McCain doesn't mention is he's been there 26 of them. And during that time, he voted 23 times against alternative fuels, 23 times. So it's easy to talk about this stuff during a campaign, but it's important for us to understand that it requires a sustained effort from the next president. One last point I want to make on energy. Sen. McCain talks a lot about drilling, and that's important, but we have three percent of the world's oil reserves and we use 25 percent of the world's oil. So what that means is that we can't simply drill our way out of the problem. And we're not going to be able to deal with the climate crisis if our only solution is to use more fossil fuels that create global warming. We're going to have to come up with alternatives, and that means that the United States government is working with the private sector to fund the kind of innovation that we can then export to countries like China that also need energy and are setting up one coal power plant a week. We've got to make sure that we're giving them the energy that they need or helping them to create the energy that they need." Second Presidential debate, Nashville, Tennessee, October 7, 2008.
Subsidies for Fossil Fuels
- "We agreed to phase out subsidies for fossil fuels so that we can transition to a 21st century energy economy -- an historic effort that would ultimately phase out nearly $300 billion in global subsidies. This reform will increase our energy security. It will help transform our economy, so that we're creating the clean energy jobs of the future. And it will help us combat the threat posed by climate change. As I said earlier this week in New York, all nations have a responsibility to meet this challenge, and together, we have taken a substantial step forward in meeting that responsibility," Obama said. Statement at the conclusion of the G20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September 2009.
- "Obama on the Record", Amanda Griscom Little, Grist, July 30, 2007.
- Barack Obama Energy Plan, accessed February 2008.
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- "Obama qualifies his support for coal-to-liquid fuel", Grist, June 13, 2007
- U.S. Senate Roll Call Votes, Senate.gov, June 19, 2007.
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- Obama Says Provision in Energy Bill to Double Ethanol Use, Invest in Clean Coal Will Help Illinois, U.S. Senator Barack Obama, June 28, 2005.
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- Barack Obama, "Remarks by President Obama at G20 Closing Press Conference", Pittsburgh Convention Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 25, 2009.
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