No matter how one mines or washes it, there’s no such thing as clean coal, despite what politicians and the coal industry say. So, it’s refreshing to see the U.K.’s Advertising Standards Authority bar Peabody Energy from making that misleading claim in its “Advanced Energy for Life” ad campaign.
The ASA ruled, in a case brought by the World Wildlife Fund, that Peabody Energy should not use the term “clean coal” to imply that coal is emission-free or “the solution for better, longer and healthier lives.” The ad says “energy poverty” is the “world’s No. 1 human and environmental crisis,” and Peabody Energy “is working to build awareness and support to end energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today’s advanced clean coal technologies.”
ASA said, “The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told Peabody Energy, Inc. to ensure that future ads did not state or imply that their technologies were emission-free or similar unless they could demonstrate that this was the case.”
A Peabody press release responded to the ASA ruling like this: “The ASA recognized Peabody's goal of raising awareness and support to alleviate energy poverty and create electricity access using all forms of energy. The group also called for greater clarification regarding use of the term ‘clean coal technologies.’ Peabody believes the term ‘clean coal technologies’ is widely accepted. The U.S. Congress itself defined the term clean coal, and Japan and China have recently affirmed the use of clean coal technologies as important to their energy strategies.
"Peabody will continue to broadly and globally communicate the benefits of advanced coal solutions as part of an all-in energy strategy to create energy access, keep energy costs low and continue to improve the environment," Gregory H. Boyce, chairman and CEO, said.
Even if the most advanced coal plants could eliminate all emissions of acid rain pollution and mercury through clean coal technology — this hasn't been clearly demonstrated and probably can’t be done cost-effectively — there’s still carbon pollution emissions and the damaging extraction process to deal with. Coal is the dirtiest of all fossil fuels; clean coal technology tries to minimize that dirtiness and reduce its harsh environmental effects by using multiple technologies to clean coal and contain its emissions.
Triple Pundit noted four years ago: “Coal’s damaging side effects are not limited to the combustion of the fuel source. The extraction process leads to polluted waterways, deforestation, erosion and the leveling of mountains, species destruction and damage to human health.”
Coal is big business: Peabody Energy’s home page features updates of the company’s latest stock price and a 2014 coal sales counter, but no count of the world’s poor lifted from “energy poverty.” As Hamlet said: “Words, words, words.” ASA was right to call Peabody on its greenwashing.