24 November 2012

Rolling Stone: “As the World Burns”

Still, even in its diluted form, the House bill alarmed many coal and oil companies. Foreseeing a showdown over climate change, the energy industry had been busy packing Capitol Hill with lobbyists. By last year, according to the Center for Public Integrity, the number of lobbyists devoted to climate change had soared by more than fivefold since 2003, to a total of 2,810 — or five lobbyists for every lawmaker in Washington. I had no idea this many lobbyists even existed in Washington, says former senator Tim Wirth, now head of the United Nations Foundation. Only 138 of the lobbyists were pushing for alternative energy — the rest were heavily weighted toward the old fossil-fuel mafia, most of whom oppose tough carbon caps. The most aggressive foes were coal polluters like Peabody Energy and the Southern Company, an Atlanta-based utility known for its prowess on Capitol Hill. They're kneecap breakers, says one congressional staffer. Jeff Goodell

Fascinating read on the struggle to push climate legislation through the US parliament and on the extreme tactics of the big energy companies to try to stall the proposal and to reduce its effectiveness. This is the dark side of free market and capitalism, working in the short-term interest of whoever holds the most financial power.

To shift the focus of the debate, the industry launched an all-out effort to rebrand its product, spending $18 million on a high-profile ad campaign to sell Americans on the virtues of "clean coal." The campaign — paid for by the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), a front group for coal companies and utilities — was vague about how coal could actually be cleaned up, relying instead on images of hip hardware like Mac computers to suggest that technology could somehow solve the problem. What the ads failed to note was that the technology behind "clean coal" — known as carbon-capture-and-sequestration — is still a pipe dream. There is not a single commercial coal-fired power plant in the world that captures and buries its carbon emissions, for a very simple reason: The process is far too complicated and expensive. But the coal industry knew it didn't need to have a real solution — it could just tout the promise of new technology, without actually changing a thing.

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