The Fallacy of Clean Coal

"Clean coal" - an open mine pit in Brandenburg Germany
A picture of clean coal: The Welzow Sud open pit mine in Brandenburg Germany

Clean coal

As the tragedy at the Upper Big Branch Mine unfolds in West Virginia, our hope is that those left alive inside the mine will soon reach the safety of the surface and the comfort of their friends and family. Coal is a way of life for many in this region, but the tragedy helps focus the cost in lives the pursuit of coal places on miners and all those who come in contact with it.

There is much talk of “clean coal” as a solution to our energy and climate challenges. Last year I visited Schwarze Pumpe, a pilot  Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CSS) coal plant in Germany, one of the first operational CSS plants in the world. While CSS technology is often touted as “clean coal,” I don’t think we should fool ourselves that there is really any such thing. The photo above of the open pit mine that feeds coal to the Schwarze Pumpe facility demonstrates that.

It may be that we’ll need to pursue such technology, as the reality is that it may take many more years to completely wean ourselves from our voracious appetite for energy derived from coal. But wean ourselves we must.

Coal is deadly. And there is no such thing as clean coal.

Coal Power Plant Timelapse from Jeff Grewe on Vimeo.

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

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  1. With the understanding that coal will be with us for a long time to come, it’s important that we utilize renewable energy to satisfy increased energy demands do to rising population and begin the long process of shifting away from coal for production of electricity.

  2. If environmentalists and progressives wish to put the final nail in the coffin of coal (or at least a few smaller ones) the thing to do is to have environmental groups target those states and localities that depend on over 50% of the electricity from coal (IN, CO, KS, IW, KY, MT, NB, NM, ND, OH, UT, WV, WY) and purchase LED lights, efficient appliances, AC units, etc. for low to moderate income consumers in those states. Less demand for electricity equals less need to mine coal. Trying this tactic in those states with less than 50% of their power coming from coal would have less impact.

    And yes support green energy credits, divestment, and switch to providers that provide power from renewables.


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