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According to White House energy adviser Heather Zichal, the Obama administration still sees a future for coal. She also said that the administration wasn’t “singing ‘Kumbaya’” with the natural gas industry and was committed to seeing coal burned “in a more environmentally friendly way.”[i] But what does that mean and how do we reach that point?

President Obama supposedly has an “all-of-the-above” energy policy that is displayed on the Barack Obama campaign website.[ii] Unfortunately, coal was missing from the list of the “all-of-the-above” energy policy until recently– after he lost40 percent of the primary vote in coal-rich West Virginia to a prison felon.[iii] At that point, his website removed ‘fuel efficiency” and replaced it with “clean coal” as part of his “all-of-the-above” energy plan. But what is “clean coal” to the president?

In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed a Clean Energy Standard (CES), where by 2035, 80 percent of our electricity would come from “clean” energy sources: renewable energy (e.g. wind, solar, biomass, and hydropower), nuclear power, natural gas, and “clean” coal.[iv]

Most people think of “clean energy” as energy that produces low amounts of pollution such as soot or toxic chemicals, but a “Clean Energy Standard” does not concern itself with actual dirtiness. Instead, proposed bills define “clean” only based on how much carbon dioxide a power plant emits. Carbon dioxide itself is not dirty—it is an odorless, colorless gas that is not toxic until carbon dioxide concentrations are many times higher than in the atmosphere.

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