Pre-Debate Facts on Coal, Nuclear, and Clean Energy

July 6, 2010

WASHINGTON--In advance of tonight’s presidential debate on energy and the economy, Greenpeace released a new backgrounder comparing different energy sources. The release comes after Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin unveiled a new slogan at a rally in Ohio: "Drill, baby, drill and mine, baby, mine!" to promote more oil drilling and more coal mining.

"Conservation, wind, and solar are where jobs are sprouting in America," said John Passacantando, Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. "If Sarah Palin really wants to help get America's economy going, she should be screaming 'Blow, baby, blow' and 'shine, baby, shine.'"

Further information comparing coal, oil and nuclear power with the green economy is below. The full backgrounder is available at /usa/Global/usa/binaries/2008/10/debate-backgrounder.pdf



Coal Kills Jobs

  • The coal industry is one of the least job-intensive industries in America. Every dollar we throw at outdated technologies like coal is a dollar we can't spend creating jobs in the clean energy economy.  Investing in wind and solar power would create at least 2.8 times the number of jobs as the same investment in coal; investments in conservation would create 3.8 times as many jobs, and mass transit would create more than six times as many jobs as coal.(/usa/Global/usa/binaries/2008/10/green-job-creation-table.pdf)
  • "Every dollar we invest in dirty energy like coal and oil is a dollar we can't spend investing in creating jobs in the clean energy economy," Passacantando said. "Just about the only way you could generate fewer jobs than the coal industry is by investing in more oil drilling."

    • Green investment would create approximately triple the number of high-paying jobs (at least $16 dollars an hour) as spending the same amount of money within the oil industry. (
      • Coal is one of the biggest contributors to global warming, which is conservatively projected to cause a $3.8 trillion annual drag on the U.S. economy by 2100 through increased extreme weather, drought, disease, insect infestation and other impacts (
      • Green investment is projected to reduce the unemployment rate to 4.4 percent from 5.7 percent (based on U.S. labor market conditions in July 2008).

      Source data and further information: Pollin, Robert (University of Massachusetts) et. al. ""Green Recovery: A Program to Create Good Jobs & Start Building a Low-Carbon Economy." September, 2008 (


      Coal Kills People

      • Pollution from coal-fired power plants causes 23,600 premature deaths, 21,850 hospital admissions, 554,000 asthma attacks, and 38,200 heart attacks every year. That translates into 3,186,000 lost work days nationwide every single year and $167.3 billion a year in additional health care costs, much of it borne by taxpayers. Source:
  • Citizens of a growing number of other states are wise to coal's dangers and are taking action. California, Kansas, Florida, and Idaho have effectively outlawed the construction of new coal-fired power plants; nationally, at least 59 proposed coal projects have been cancelled due to public opposition, failure to meet permitting requirements, or lack of funding.. Source:


The Myth of "Clean Coal"


  • "Clean coal" technology has, until recently, referred to the scrubbers used to sweep nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and other regulated pollutants from coal-fired power plants. But today the coal industry, and now the presidential campaigns, use the term as shorthand for carbon capture and sequestration (or CCS), a largely-theoretical technology that would separate carbon dioxide from smokestacks and bury it in the ground to limit its global warming impact.
  • The first attempt to demonstrate the feasibility of CCS was a project in Illinois called FutureGen. But the government was forced to abandon the trial in January after years of technical failures and budget overruns. Nationwide, approximately $5.2 billion in taxpayer and ratepayer money has been invested in the technology, however a recent government report found that of 13 projects examined, eight had serious delays or financial problems, six were years behind schedule, and two were bankrupt. (

More information: "False Hope," May, 2008 Greenpeace Report on Problems with CCS:


Coal Destroys Mountains and Forests and Pollutes America's Water Supply

  • Most coal mining in the Eastern U.S. today uses an intensive practice known as mountain top removal to extract coal from the ground. Mountain-top removal has leveled more than 450 mountains across Appalachia. (Map of destroyed mountains at
    • Mountain top removal destroys ecosystems, stripping away topsoil, trees, and understory habitats, filling streams and valleys with rubble, poisoning water supplies, and generating massive impoundments that can cause catastrophic floods. (pics and info at

    More information at:



Greenpeace has released a new video about America's addiction to oil, available at


Oil drilling causes oil spilling

  • Hurricane Ike resulted in at least three missing oil rigs. One missing rig was owned by Rowan Cos., resulting in a $60 million claim. The rig has never been recovered. (
  • Hurricanes Katrina and Rita caused 124 offshore spills for a total of 743,700 gallons. 554,400 gallons were crude oil and condensate from platforms, rigs and pipelines, and 189,000 gallons were refined products from platforms and rigs. (
  • As global warming worsens, supercharged storms like Katrina and Rita will continue to pummel coastal areas and oil infrastructure, meaning more oil spills are inevitable.


Oil drilling won't lower gas prices

  • The United States burns 24 percent of the world's oil, yet it only has 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. Even if the country drilled every drop of oil the U.S. has on shore or off its coasts, it will never be able to drill its way to lower oil prices or energy security. The country simply burns more than it could ever drill.
  • Offshore oil drilling is not a short-term fix. It will take at least a decade to bring new leases into production. It will be years before exploration will begin and years after that before production will start. If any effect were to be felt on gas prices (most likely only a few pennies per gallon), that effect is decades away.
  • Offering up more of the coastline for drilling won't lower gas prices. There is no correlation between increased drilling and lower gas prices. The number of drilling permits increased by 361 percent from 1999 to 2007, yet prices continue to spike.
  • Oil prices are set on the global oil market, which means that all oil produced around the world is all sold at the same price. There is no guarantee that the country would even be using the oil that was drilled in the U.S.--it would pay the same rate as the rest of the world.



Nuclear plants remain highly vulnerable to terrorist attack.

  • Although seven years have passed since the attacks of 9/11, America's nuclear power plants remain highly vulnerable to terrorist attack even thought U.S. officials acknowledge that the architect of the attacks - Khalid Sheikh Mohammed - originally planned to fly the planes into nuclear facilities in the U.S. Moreover, according to the Congressional Research Service, nuclear power plants are not designed to withstand airliner attack. (


    Nuclear power can't compete with clean energy as a solution to global warming.

    • In 2003, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) under the directorship of McCain's own economic advisor, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, indicated that loan guarantees for nuclear plants had a 50 percent chance of defaulting.

      CBO considers the risk of default on such a loan guarantee to be very high-well above 50 percent. The key factor accounting for this risk is that we expect that the plant would be uneconomic to operate because of its high construction costs, relative to other electricity generation sources.


Nuclear power requires massive taxpayer subsidies.

  • Last July, six major U.S. banking institutions including Citigroup, Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch & Morgan Stanley sent a letter to the Department of Energy (DOE). In it, the bankers told DOE that unless the U.S. taxpayer backed 100 percent of the debt incurred by nuclear corporations that they would have difficulty "accessing capital markets. "We believe these risks, combined with the higher capital costs and longer construction schedules of nuclear plants as compared to other generation facilities, will make lenders unwilling at present to extend long-term credit to such projects in a form that would be commercially viable," their letter said.


The French Model? France's Nuclear Industry Has Been Plagued by Delays, Cost Overruns, and Leaks

  • While politicians point to France as an model for new nuclear plants in the United States, France's new Evolutionary Power Reactor (EPR) has had tremendous cost overruns and is now estimated to cost $6.5 billion dollars per plant.
  • One French-designed plant in Finland has experienced "flawed welds for the reactor's steel liner, unusable water-coolant pipes and suspect concrete in the foundation already have pushed back the delivery date of the Olkiluoto 3 unit by at least two years." (




The clean energy economy is creating jobs and prosperity

  • Colorado's recent investment in wind power technology demonstrates the viability of large-scale clean energy solutions. Two years ago, when Colorado voters were considering a measure to require 10 percent of their electricity to come from clean sources, Xcel Energy, the state's biggest electric utility fought the initiative tooth and nail. However, after the ballot initiative passed, Xcel installed thousands of megawatts of clean energy, met the requirement eight years ahead of schedule, and quickly agreed to double its goal to 20 percent. (
  • The same program could easily be duplicated across the country. Enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Similarly, geothermal energy is capable of providing tremendous electricity supplies for America.
  • Scientists have shown that enough solar energy hits the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world's energy needs for a year. A report released by the energy consulting firm Clean Edge in June showed that solar energy could meet 10 percent of the of the country's electricity needs by 2025.

Clean Energy Can Provide the Equivalent of $1 / gallon gas


State-by-state analysis of green investment:

"Renewable Power's Growth in Colorado Presages National Debate":

New data on how investing in green economy solutions like wind and solar would create about twice the jobs as the Wall Street bailout:

More details on taxpayer giveaways to energy companies in the bailout bill:

For further information, contact Mike Crocker, Greenpeace USA, 202-215-8989

Other contacts: CONTACT: Mike Crocker, Greenpeace USA, 202-215-8989

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