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The Great Coal Debate aka How Lobbyists Pollute Politics

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Jeanine Molloff

The Huffington Post

The Great Coal Debate: How Lobbyists Pollute Our Politics

Bruce Nilles, Sierra Club's Beyond Coal "consigliere' is passionate about saving our planet and saving our democracy. More resembling a graduate student than an experienced advocate; he exudes the calm intensity of a tired parent dealing with a stubborn child. Not only does he want to rid the planet of coal pollution; he wants to end this culture of "polluting politics.' Condemning the corporate practice of hiring recent legislators as lobbyists; he decries the ""army of lobbyists that are subverting our democracy."

(The Great Coal Debate, Washington University, 04/27/10)

Fred Palmer, senior Vice-President in charge of "governmental relations' for Peabody Coal is passionate about winning. He is also on record as being an early "climate change denier,' spending 20 years running the Greening Earth Society, an organization pushing the theory that fossil fuel pollution increases biological growth and prosperity. Appearing grandfatherly yet quirky in an expensive suit and black scuffed cowboy boots; he has been quoted on record claiming that ""every time you turn your car on and you burn fossil fuels and you put CO2 into the air, you're doing the work of the Lord." (http://www.polluterwatch.ocm/2010/01/polluterwatch-exclusive-the-many-faces-of-fred-palmer)

Both men faced off April 27th at WashingtonUniversity in St. Louis in what was dubbed THE GREAT COAL DEBATE. Moderated by Time magazine correspondent Brian Walsh; the subtitle could have aptly been"is the cheap energy worth the cost?

This event was orchestrated by a group of dedicated progressive students at odds with the university's longstanding, almost incestuous relationship with Peabody Coal and Arch Energy, two of the largest coal producers in the United States. Both corporations have representatives on the school's board of trustees and as such, the students contend have undue influence on most scientific energy research being conducted by the university.

A particular source of academic embarrassment is the formation of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization (CCCU), funded by Peabody Energy, Arch Coal and local electricity utility Ameren. The CCCU plan is to build a 1 megawatt demonstration carbon capture & sequestration plant on campus. This plan was ushered in by a symposium titled "America's Energy Future," which invited execs Steven F. Leer of Arch Coal, Fred Palmer of Peabody Energy, and other fossil fuel vendors, while excluding any companies researching renewable energy. In short--like a jilted bride, renewable energy researchers and environmental advocates were definitely not invited to the party.

Student groups cried foul, citing both the consortium and the university board of trustees for deceitful practices and academic dishonesty. Multiple student groups including Students for Endowment Transparency sponsored an earlier protest questioning the status of alleged "independent' scientific research when corporate forces control the purse strings. These same student organizations including the school's Student Union, Student Senate and members of WashingtonUniversity's Climate Justice Alliance delivered a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu articulating their concerns in response to Chu's scheduled appearance as featured speaker at this year's commencement. Specifically they demanded that Chu slash the oxymoron term "clean coal' from his speech and all future speeches. To put it bluntly, these students were not going to fall for the usual "green-washing.'

Many in the packed audience of 500 again asked how any honest scientist could use the term "clean coal,' or "green coal.' Citing multiple studies by the EPA, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, World Health Organization; several students demanded that any scientific study of coal and it s by-products dump the term "clean coal' when applied to scientific research as unduly biased. One student asked Palmer to admit that the use of the term "clean coal' is inappropriate given the current science, to which Palmer gave the following stony faced response,

"I don't accept the premise of the question."

Palmer did give timely condolences to the victims of the Massey coal mine disaster, cited Peabody's alleged safety record, and bragged that

""Working at a Peabody Mine is safer than working at WalMart."

Unfortunately, the truth regarding Peabody's safety record is far different than this fictional account. According to a BusinessWeek article, cited by Nilles;

"Peabody's Air Quality No. 1 mine in Knox County, Indiana, tops the U.S. in citations, with 1,419. The company's operation in Saline County, Illinois, has accumulated 1,217 citations, according to (Mine Safety and Health Administration) data."

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Working as an urban educator for over 25 years--I 'moonlight' as a writer. I write part-time for The Huffington Post and enjoy the task of curmudgeon,(at least where career politicians are concerned). I consider myself a political independent who (more...)
 
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