No Coal is Clean Coal

by Robert Meyers

May 14, 2009

Mr Peabody Coal and Mr. Massey Ferguson were walking down a winding country road in the Mountains of Appalachia. The kind of road John Denver sang about in “Country Road, Take Me Home.” They were talking about which of the surrounding mountaintops they would remove next, when one of them kicked at what looked like a can in the tall lush grass of the roadside. It was heavier than he thought it would be and hurt his toe a little bit and scuffed his Gucci boot.

They both bent over and discovered it was an antique lantern with a spout. Mr. Peabody rubbed at the surface to see if there was a logo or anything to identify it when a genie appeared out of it in a puff of smoke. They were astonished to see such a thing in the middle of a forest in the middle of the day, but before they could recover enough to accuse the genie of trespass on their land, which was everything as far as the eye could see and a bird can fly, the genie offered to grant them three wishes.

They could hardly believe their luck. First they asked for CCS technology, the here-to-for holy grail of the industry. The genie promised that all the CO2 from now on would disappear underground. Rubbing their hands with glee, the coaligarchs carefully considered their second wish, after some minutes in animated conference they turned to the genie and asked that the trillions of acres of toxic fly ash accumulating around their coal power plants could disappear removing the threat of devastating flooding from thousands of miles of watersheds.

The genie nodded his head with some gravity and assented to their wish that this threat to water and land vanish immediately and poof, the ponds were gone. The two megabillionaires thumped each other on the back and lit big cigars in celebration. They thought long and hard and threw out ideas about they could ask for next, maybe get the means to turn coal into gasoline, or to burn in streetlights or right in the engines of automobiles, but then they both focused on what was most on their minds, what they had spent so many millions to advertise and together they turned to the genie and asked them with one voice, “make coal clean.”

The genie looked at them intently for many minutes with a look that shook the exuberance off their bravado and slowly he shook his head. As he did so they were effortlessly transported into the future they had planned for this very part of the lush eastern forest. Their eyes stung in the heat and the dust as giant excavators devastated the dense old growth forest and ripped into the ancient stone of the million year old landscape. Around them the cries of millions of creatures obliterated in the waste of the mountainsides and spoil of the mining operation filling the lush dark valley below. After the quick glimpse of the change from life sustaining forest to toxic desert the genie said “alas, you have wasted your last wish, for not even magic can produce such a thing as “clean coal.”

By Robert Meyers

Robert Meyers is a senior photo editor at Greenpeace USA.

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