In Shell’s latest ad, they let us know that "[p]erfecting CCS won’t be easy, but we believe it is needed to tackle CO2 emissions."
Shell Oil Company’s parent, Royal Dutch Shell, did once own Shell Coal, before selling off its American and Australian mining operations to other companies, but now Shell is wholly concentrated on its oil and gas business. Yet on the "Real Energy" website, which advertises their alternative energy efforts with cutely animated power plants and refineries, the majority of the text is dedicated to their "carbon management" efforts. Carbon management, apparently, mostly involves the gasification of coal and then supposed capture and storage of resulting carbon dioxide emissions.
According to Shell’s website, "the CO2 from gasification [of coal] can be more easily captured than from smokestacks – potentially for storage underground." This implies that Shell, through the development of coal gasification technology, is doing its part to fight global warming—even though gasification only benefits the climate when paired with the non-existent, unfeasible CCS.
So Shell gets to license its gasification technology to China, whose coal plants have no plans to even try for carbon capture and storage installations, while earning some of the $2.4 billion alloted for CCS research in the latest stimulus package.
Appropriately, Shell’s own attempts to take "clean coal" technology a step beyond their gasification have all suffered major setbacks. Australia’s Queensland project, promoted repeatedly on their website, was recently shelved and another "clean coal" test project, worth $5 billion dollars, has been put on indefinite hold. Clearly, carbon capture and storage has already proven itself economically inefficient.
In addition, this is money that might have gone to developing true, renewable energy sources—if, that is, Shell hadn’t pulled out of solar energy years ago and more recently, withdrawn even from windfarms—though, of course, they still advertise their wind energy investments.
Shell’s greenwash hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed; a previous ad of theirs, using the same cute and cartoonish imagery, was banned by the UK’s advertising authority for misleading consumers. The ad promoted a carbon neutral company that was, at the same time, aggressively developing tar sands harvesting.
The United States also has a government body dedicated to regulating advertising; hopefully, the FTC will step in and do its job. This ad, with its deceptive "green" imagery and CCS lies, perfectly demonstrates the misleading potential of a well-executed greenwash.
If Shell really wanted to "tackle CO2 emissions," they’d stop supporting the coal industry, and instead put that money back into solar and wind energy. But that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it?
Anyone that pays attention to the news and science, and not the desperate ads put out by the coal industry, knows that "clean" coal cannot be typed without quotes around "clean." Clean coal has been debunked thoroughly, and even the coal companies are beginning to pick up on their failed "facts."
This, however, has not led to any admissions on their part, only clever copy writing and continuing attempts to obscure the truth. Peabody Energy's latest ad is full of greenwash, offering us the chance to refute the coal industries' lies point by point.
The ad opens with:
"Clean coal means energy security, jobs and economic stimulus along with a cleaner environment."
The coal industry often tries to present itself as the savior of the American economy. While the coal industry does, of course, offer jobs, this is not a mutually exclusive arrangement. As the President and his advisors have noted, a clean economy would offer millions of new, green-collar jobs as well as a wellspring of economic stimulus.
In addition, the promise of "a cleaner environment" excludes, apparently, the air. Power plants are responsible for nearly 40,000 near-fatal heart attacks per year, almost 3000 instances of lung cancer, and countless asthma cases and assorted respiratory and cardiac illnesses. These effects are felt much more acutely in those areas near coal-fired power plants than in areas with little to no coal plants nearby, which is yet another reason to keep the "clean" in quotes.
"What is clean coal?"
"Part One of clean coal has taken place in recent years, as billions of dollars in new technologies scrub away emissions."
One of the most common greenwashing practices is taking credit for what the law requires of them. Or, as Stop Greenwash puts it, "It's the Law, Stupid!"
For instance, the toxic emissions that the coal companies so helpfully scrubbed away- sulfur oxide and nitrous oxide -not only are such emission reductions required by law, but using these scrubbers requires more energy, resulting in even more CO2 pollution.
"Part Two builds on this with new, efficient coal-fueled power plants with reduced carbon footprints. Eventually, carbon capture and storage will allow plants to recycle the CO2 back underground in deep storage or even oil fields, increasing U.S. oil production."
Again, the greenwash in this paragraph is subtle--the ad suggests that carbon-capture and storage is an inevitable technology soon to be sweeping the nation In reality, the technology is not yet ready for utility use, and experts believe it couldn't be deployed any earlier than 2030.
Carbon-capture and storage, first and foremost, wastes energy. Using 10-40% of a power plant’s energy, CCS could literally erase the efficiency gains made in the last 50 years. For every four CCS plants, another five would be needed to power them; all the "clean coal" industry offers the American public is false hope.
Lastly, carbon capture and storage would raise the cost of electricity of 21-91%. So much for coal being America's affordable electricity.
"Americans overwhelmingly support the use of coal. A landslide 72% of opinion leaders recently said yes to the use of coal to generate electricity and 69% say coal is a fuel of the future."
According to CoalCanDoThat.com, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity was the sponsor of this study. Perhaps this would indicate it is not as scientific and unbiased as one would hope—a textbook greenwash.
"So let's use coal to deliver energy security, more jobs and a stronger economy. And let's solve the technology and regulatory hurdles to let America recycle its carbon."
Carbon-capture and storage does not recycle carbon, by which they mean carbon dioxide, the second most-abundant greenhouse gas, but you wouldn't know it if you only read "clean" coal ads. Carbon capture and storage involves the separation of carbon dioxide, either before or after the fuel is combusted. The carbon dioxide is then sequestered in underground geological formations, such as oil fields, or pumped into the ocean.
The carbon dioxide would never be reused for energy, and in fact, could pose a risk to nearby communities if it leaked out of the sequestration.
In the end, then, what Peabody Energy and its accomplices are attempting to sell the promise of an unproven and unfeasible technology. They want the public to put up with dangerous, dirty, coal-fired power plants today, with the empty reassurance that sometime later, they'll clean it up.
Coal is hardly the energy solution America, and the world, needs.
P.S. All the specifics in this article were pulled from "False Hope," the comprehensive Greenpeace report on the myths and lies of carbon capture and storage. You can read the PDF here.
Update: We sent the letter out, and you can download a PDF of the official, signed version here.
January 22, 2008
Immediately after President Obama's inauguration speech, you began running television ads that splice together quotes of the President's in a manner promoting "clean coal" but deliberately misrepresenting his energy campaign platform. Buying the very first ad run on CNN after the speech shows the weight of the $40 million dollars you have spent in the past year on prime advertising real estate.
The footage in your latest ad was apparently taken from President Obama's September 9th speech in Lebanon, VA. The ad shows him saying, "[C]lean coal technology is something that can make American energy independent." Then a screen with text flashes "Clean Coal - creating jobs" before another video clip from the same speech with the President's words: "And by the way, we can create five million new jobs, in clean energy technologies."
The ad thereby implies that President Obama intends to create five million jobs with "clean coal," which you know is false. The President’s New Energy For America plan outlines the creation of "five million new green jobs" with a broad swath of investments in energy efficiency, weatherizing homes, aggressive deployment of renewable energy and plug-in hybrid cars. Coal is the next to last thing on the list. Even in your wildest dreams, so called "clean coal" will never create millions of jobs.
In addition, your ad co-opted President Obama's signature inspirational campaign slogan, dubbing in a crowd chant of "Yes we can!" over what in real life was just a round of applause.
Greenpeace considers the myth of "clean coal" and Carbon Capture and Storage to be a dangerous distraction and false solution to the climate crisis. As prioritized by Energy Secretary Chu and the President's agenda, energy efficiency and renewable energy have stronger and more crucial role to play in America's energy future. However, regardless of differences of opinion on the role of coal in our nation’s energy future, false advertising and misinformation is unacceptable.
We call on you to withdraw this ad campaign and publicly redress these false representations of President Obama's environmental policy. Your misinformation campaign around clean coal continues to corrupt an informed debate in the quest for energy alternatives, environmental security, and real energy solutions.
The America's Power campaign, funded by the coal and electricity industry, promotes coal as our country's solution to energy independence. They do this through the lens of clean coal, when in reality they are simply a front group for an industry lobby aimed to keep dirty coal plants in existence.
American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) is a not-for-profit organization (NGO) founded as a result of the merge between Americans for Balanced Energy Choices and Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) . Its stated mission is "to advance the development and deployment of advanced clean coal technologies that will produce electricity with near-zero emissions." 
ACCCE's mission is to convey to consumers and elected officials that coal should play a central role in meeting future American energy needs. As it notes on its website, "America can continue to make great progress in improving environmental quality while at the same time enjoying the benefits of using domestic energy resources like coal to meet our growing demand for affordable, reliable and clean energy. In a word...we believe in technology."  As part of this effort, ACCCE has sought to re-brand coal as a "clean" energy source. Its messaging reminds viewers that "half of our electricity comes from coal" and that "coal is our most abundant fuel." 
To do this, ACCCE is spending at least $35 million in 2008 to mount a major public relations campaign designed to promote public awareness of clean coal in the context of the Presidential race. They are doing this by flooding the election season with national and local ad campaigns.
ACCCE's campaign is built around an "American Energy" theme, arguing that "clean" coal-fired power plants are the only viable path to American energy independence. They have run print ads in key primary states to remind prospective voters of their state's reliance on coal and tout the benefits of clean coal in terms of both jobs and affordable power. To date, the local ads have run in Iowa, Nevada, South Carolina, Ohio, and Pennsylvania . In addition to a traditional media campaign, ACCCE utilizes a ground force of 150,000 supporters, who they call the "civilian army" and their "Power Van" as a guerilla force to bird-dog political rallies and events across the country festooned with clean coal slogans and a blue sky backdrop .
Along with their print ad campaign, ACCCE paid CNN $5 million to be one of the main co-sponsors of six presidential debates, providing saturation advertising both on television and online. Some blogs have noted the irony that during these debates, no questions have been asked about climate and specifically about coal.
In 2007 alone, 59 proposed coal plants were cancelled or put on hold and in January DOE pulled the plug on the FutureGen project planned for Illinois that would be the first "near-zero emissions" facility utilizing cap and storage technology because the project was resulting in higher than expected costs. And to top things off, in October 2007, Kansas became the first state to reject issuing a permit for a new coal-fired plan solely because of its potential to contribute to global warming. But the coal industry isn't giving up, in fact ACCCE has increased its budget from approximately $8 million to $35 million for 2008 . Other industry partners such as the National Mining Association have also increased their lobbying significantly in 2008 . The intention is clear, the coal industry is determined to maintain America's over reliance on coal as a domestic energy source in spite of the need to diversify energy production to address global warming and minimize any impacts to the coal industry within the energy debate.
ACCCE is a wholly owned (albeit non-profit) subsidiary of the U.S. coal industry. Its list of 43 supporters reads like a who's who of the coal, rail, and electricity industries: ALCOA, American Electric Power, CSX, Detroit Edison, Duke Energy, Peabody Energy, Southern Company and Union Pacific Railroad. Its real purpose, contrary to its claims, is not to promote coal as a source for clean or green energy, but merely to ensure that the United States continues to be highly dependent on coal for its energy needs.
Not surprisingly, ACCCE's promotion of clean coal plays with the facts. Although ACCCE claims that its "coal-based generating fleet is 70 percent cleaner than before," these numbers refer only to reductions in sulfur oxide (SOX) and nitrogen oxide (NOX) emissions . The coal industry has yet to implement technology to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the main cause of global warming. ACCCE also fails to state anywhere in its campaign or on its website that coal plants are cleaner today not because of the industry's voluntary efforts, but rather as a result of legislative mandates or court decisions .
Perhaps the most misleading component of ACCCE's campaign is its implication that new and better CCS technologies capable of creating "near-zero emissions" are right around the corner. In reality, some scientists feel that the earliest CCS technology could be implemented is 2030 and would cost billions . This is illustrated by the DOE's decision to pull out of FutureGen when the project began to exceed projected costs.
While the public mission of the group is to promote clean coal, a closer look at the group reveals otherwise. Newly formed in 2008, ACCCE is the latest version of the long lineage of coal front groups. If you look at the federal tax records for ACCCE's parent organization, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), you will find the true nature of their work. In their 2006 tax records, ABEC claims that they promote "an increased awareness of improvements in U.S. air quality and the coal-based electricity sector's role in America's ongoing environmental progress as well as the mobilization of a citizen army on issues involving various state regulatory and legislative actions including decisions on implementation of EPA's Clean Air Mercury rule and actions to regulate utility greenhouse gas emissions." 
At the same time that ACCCE was telling the public that it was dedicated to clean technology, it was spending over $2.6 million lobbying Congress. According to lobbying records, it "opposed the national renewal portfolio" in the Comprehensive Energy Bill (HR 6) and contested the America's Climate Security Act (better known as the Lieberman-Warner bill) when it came before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee .
While, ACCCE promotes the benefits of coal to local communities, they neglect to speak to the reality of the environmental damage caused by its extraction and use. They fail to mention the impacts of air pollutants and mercury contamination produced in the burning of coal, which are known to cause cancer, impair reproduction, inhibit child development, damage the nervous and immune systems, and worsen respiratory ailments like asthma. They never mention the environmental impact of coal mining, which includes erosion, groundwater contamination, habitat destruction, and toxic waste. Environmental and economic costs incurred in waste disposal and land reclamation and transportation are also omitted from the dialog .
Perhaps most relevant to its current campaign, ACCCE proudly admits that 50 percent of our electricity comes from coal, yet they neglect to admit its contribution to climate change. The EPA documented that in 2006 electricity generation "is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, representing 33 percent of total US emissions . In reality, there is nothing "clean" about the coal electicity it promotes.
 America's Power
 America's Power
 America's Power
 America's Power
 America's Power
 America's Power
 2006 IRS form 990, Americans For Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
 The Washington Post
 America's Power
 Keating, Martha. Cradle to Grave: The Environmental Impacts from Coal. June 2001 Clean Air Task Force
 New Scientist, "Can coal live up to its clean promise?" March 27, 2008
 2006 IRS form 990, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices Greenpeace Investigations
 Lobbying Report, Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, 2007, Greenpeace Investigations website
 Keating, passim.
 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, "Inventory of U.S Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2006" EPA
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.