Erik Guts Mike Duncan
Coal Front Article

CEO and President of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity Mike Duncan's July 2, 2014 editorial in the Washington Examiner, "War on coal will cost U.S. $1 trillion in new technology growth", fails on both facts and logic.

"As the Fourth of July nears," Duncan writes, evoking patriotism, "summer officially swings into full gear, and Main Streets across the country will be home to legions of parades featuring community members coming together to celebrate our independence...however, our president appears to be leading a one-man parade of his own to force an ill-conceived emissions-reduction plan onto the American people…"

American Clean Coal Coalition is picked apart by American travel writer Erik Gauger

But it is not true that the President is acting alone.  Americans have urged the president to work with the country.  Obama is the first president to take climate change seriously, and he has made incredible progress despite near unilateral resistance from Republicans.

Some may take exception to details of the President's climate plan or the EPA's rules, but most are encouraged by the progress. If someone find faults in the President's climate plans, they should encourage congressional Republicans to contribute solutions to the discussion.

Some facts for Mike Duncan:

  • Almost 2/3rds of all Americans support the President taking significant steps to combat climate change.  (League of Conservation Voters Poll, February 2014)
  • A Wall Street Journal/NBC poll finds that 67% of respondents either strongly or somewhat support the EPA coal rules, while only 29% oppose it.
  • According to a Public Polling Policy survey, Americans support the Obama Administration's efforts to curb coal pollution by a very healthy margin.
  • In 2014, a majority of Americans, believe that global warming will harm future generations of people (65%) and plant and animal species (65%) according to a Yale Report.
  • 57% of self-described liberal and moderate Republicans would support the United States tackling climate change unilaterally.

Despite this, according to a report from ThinkProgress on Republican congressional support for climate change progress, 

  • 90 percent of the Republican leadership in both House and Senate deny climate change
  • 17 out of 22 Republican members of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, or 77 percent, are climate deniers
  • 22 out of 30 Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, or 73 percent deny the reality of climate change
  • 100 percent of Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans have said climate change is not happening or that humans do not cause it

Obama is not acting alone, he is acting on behalf of the American people in deference to an isolated congress.

Mike Duncan and Climate Politics

Mike Duncan stumbles in his first claim, but misleads in his second.  He says, "…world leaders are refusing to follow (Obama), as they recognize the consequences associated with the president's plan are simply too steep to risk."

American Clean Coal Coalition is picked apart by American travel writer Erik Gauger Mike Duncan

If Mike Duncan is serious about promoting carbon sequestration technology, he will collaborate with Americans, not distort and divide.

Duncan cites two world leaders who are particularly anti-climate as his evidence of world disapproval with Obama's plan.  However, worldwide, the opposite is true.  According to the New York Times, " …experts say that achieving the pledge Mr. Obama made in Copenhagen — a 17 percent reduction in the nation's greenhouse gases by 2020, compared with the 2005 level — would be quite likely, if his plan survives."

The article goes on to state, "Mr. Obama's effort is…at reclaiming for the country the mantle of international leadership in battling climate change. If the policy coaxes more ambitious goals from other countries, experts say it could be a turning point. The test of that will come soon, as world leaders meet in New York in September seeking to make headway on a new global climate treaty. The leaders are supposed to pledge ambitious new emissions targets for their countries by next spring, with a final treaty due in late 2015."

The consensus among international policymakers, then, is that by showing the world that the United States is serious about emissions reductions may be one of the most important steps in seeing results around the world.  It is disingenuous for Duncan to cite two world leaders, despite overwhelming international support for the U.S. EPA regulations – positive signals from 98% of our trading partners -  for the Obama Administration's efforts to show the world that the world's largest economy can and is willing to reduce carbon emissions.

Duncan fails logically in his next assertion, when he states, "It is important to understand that U.S. power plants produce a scant four percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to China and India, which together emit more than 20 percent of all GHG emissions."

Obama, Mike Duncan and Greenhouse Gases

The United States is the number two greenhouse gas polluter behind China, and coal plants account for almost 25% of that pollution.  Because coal is a declining U.S. energy source using outdated technology, and because addressing coal pollution is a relatively easy first step in U.S. carbon pollution reductions, it makes sense to address coal emissions now.  Duncan tries to use global figures to make U.S. coal pollution sound insignificant.  But it's the domestic numbers that matter most, because climate issues will be adequately mitigated if the top 15 economies make strong efforts to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.

And Duncan's numbers are off too – it's actually 4.75% of global emissions, so if we're rounding and are honest, it's 5%.

Next, Duncan claims that the reason that coal plant emissions are 'so low' is because, "the industry has put its money where its mouth is in making investments to use coal more cleanly and efficiently, and U.S. power plants are leading the way in developing clean-coal technologies."

Remember that Mike Duncan's American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity exists to fight off EPA regulations, and yet the very investments the coal industry is pursuing in clean coal is a direct result of an incentive provided by EPA regulations.

The 8.8 billion number is the high end of a figure by the EPA.  The New York Times explains the number: "The E.P.A. estimates that the rule will cost the economy $7.3 billion to $8.8 billion annually, but will lead to benefits of $55 billion to $93 billion, primarily by preventing premature deaths and mitigating respiratory diseases."

Mike Duncan on Coal Power Plants

Duncan goes on to state, "[Obama has] wholly ignored the industry's $118 billion investment, so far, and another $27 billion through 2016, to reduce emissions at U.S. power plants."

It is true that the coal industry is responding to tightening regulations by new technology investments to meet these new specifications – that is a good thing, and clean coal – which is actually called carbon sequestration (or CCS), is technology which can permanently eliminate carbon pollution at coal plants.  But the central thesis that Duncan says the coal front industry is about Clean Coal is a fake one.  The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is a partisan front group that attempts to disable and disrupt carbon legislation that would force their industry to clean up and modernize.

According to the Washington Post, "Perhaps even more than other new energy technologies, clean coal is still mostly experimental, and it remains exorbitantly expensive. China has invested heavily in the technology, and if the research goes well, clean coal might prove enormously beneficial there -- but perhaps less so in other countries, and the United States might not ever have much use for it."

The problem is that, in the words of the same Washington Post article, "a new clean-coal plant built now costs about as much as a new solar plant per unit of electrical generation...U.S. coal power plants are much older than the new Chinese fleet, and it wouldn't make sense to install fancy new cleaning equipment at facilities that will need to be decommissioned soon anyway."

This is not just the opinion of a writer at the Washington Post; this is the reality that the future for clean coal, especially without strong EPA legislation, appears dim in the United States.  According to The Economist, "Utilities refuse to make bigger investments because power plants with CCS would be much more expensive to build and run than the ordinary sort. They seem more inclined to invest in other low-carbon power sources, such as nuclear, solar and wind. Inventors and venture capitalists, in the meantime, are striving to create all manner of new technologies…but it is hard to find anyone working on CCS in their garage. Several green pressure groups, and even some energy and power company bosses, think that the whole idea is unworkable."

It is not that the discussion surrounding clean energy is dismissive of the potential for clean coal. Clean coal is almost certainly a part of the future energy makeup of the United States. Everybody who wants less greenhouse gases wants carbon sequestration to work. The problem is that the ACCCE does nothing to propel the role of CCS technology as an aspect of less carbon dioxide in the air and oceans.

Mike Duncan and the EPA

Duncan then states, "Likewise, his EPA's proposed New Source Performance Standards, released last year, place a de facto ban on the construction of new cutting-edge clean-coal plants; jeopardizing America's leadership in developing Carbon Capture and Storage technology and ceding an estimated $1 trillion in economic benefits resulting from the technology to countries like China."

This statement is disingenuous at best.  The EPA's New Source Performance Standards dictate that new coal factories must use carbon sequestration technology.  Why on Earth would a coal lobby that says it believes in promoting clean coal not believe in what it says it stands for?  Why on earth should new American coal factories not employ clean coal?   

And where does Duncan get his claim that if we don't implement CCS technologies in the United States, we will somehow lose a trillion dollars in selling clean coal technology to China?  The logic is crazy, and of course, where does he get these numbers? This is especially true since China is an innovator in clean coal technology because the country has more of an investment incentive as their coal factories are newer and still being built.

Then, Duncan states, "Meanwhile, the demand for coal continues to grow globally, particularly among burgeoning economic powers."

Energy, of course, is in demand around the world, and the demand for coal as an energy source will also grow along with world economic growth.  But coal is the dirtiest energy source on Earth, and while it poisons cities, kills children and decapitates mountains, it is a major global source of carbon dioxide emissions and is therefore a primary source of the world's most dangerous dual problems – climate change and ocean acidification.

Climate Change and the American Coalition for Clean Coal

But remember that Mike Duncan's American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity does not actually believe that these issues even exist.  In fact, they are closely aligned with the small group of extreme political operatives who have sought to sow doubt about climate change science in the United States.  Mike Duncan is a chairman for American Crossroads, a group which spends millions on climate change disinformation.  Duncan is also closely aligned with hyper-partisan operative Karl Rove, who many believe to be the central figure in U.S. climate change denialism.

Today, right-leaning Forbes Magazine wrote about the tricks that climate-change denialist groups use to cherrypick data to their own end.  Of Climate Change Denialist organization The Heartland Institute, Erik Sherman of Forbes Magazine writes  "…an examination of the full data and some critical consideration shows that the organization, whether unintentionally or deliberately, has inaccurately characterized and misrepresented the information and what it shows."

Sherman continues, "By looking only at the difference between two arbitrarily chosen points, Taylor avoided implications of the full data patterns. Unless a data series is relatively stable, focusing solely on the absolute difference between two points inadequately addresses what the information represents."

In my life as an travel blogger, as I have had the opportunity to speak in-depth with climate change scientists, visit sites impacted by climate and carbon dioxide issues, and to challenge climate denialists in several countries. I have come across some really poor arguments. But this year, The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity published their flagship argument on their site in the form of a PDF report. The report concludes that "...the more CO2 there is in the air, the better plants grow...Numerous studies conducted on hundreds of different plant species testify to the very real and measurable growth-enhancing, water-saving, and stress-alleviating advantages that elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations have for Earth's plants."

American Clean Coal Coalition is picked apart by American travel writer Erik Gauger

The conclusion of the ACCCE is that the more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the better; essentially the same argument which the climate denialist groups pivoted into this July; that more carbon dioxide in the air, more climate change and more ocean acidification, despite the overwhelming global scientific consensus to its opposite, is actually positive for the world. I have never, ever read a more nonsensical argument. Yet the argument confirms that the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity isn't a Clean Coal group at all. The only purpose for clean coal technology is to decrease the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. So why would a group that is paid for by the owners of the coal industry deny the existence of the threat they are supposedly trying to fix?

By evaluating the statements made by Mike Duncan in his piece, we can see that he follows the same path of using information in isolation of the big picture toward his own lobbyist ends.

The American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity is the most well-funded voice in the climate change lobby. Mike Duncan and his employees get paid millions by the coal industry to stifle your voice as an American, and the voice for urgent action on the most vital issue.

Mike Duncan wrote his opinion-piece, without citing sources, in a hyper-partisan blog that is read by people who are certainly ill-informed of climate and energy issues. He wasn't expecting you and I to be there to ask him to come clean. Call the ACCCE at 202.459.4800, remind them that our children depend on collaboration, not distortion, and tell them to come clean on the facts.

Explore more in Preservation

Notes from the Road is publishing chapter-by-chapter rebuttals to anti-climate change skeptic's self-published book.

Notes from the Road urges author Bruce Haedrich to abandon his indefensible thesis on EV batteries.

Katie Tubb, Heritage Foundation author, urged to reconsider her pseudoscientific argument against climate change.

In an open letter to the author of the Ross Rant, Notes from the Road challenges the underlying falsehoods of his claims.

A Coal Lobby Opinion piece asks the Trump Administration to punish US Bank for divesting in coal.

I weigh in on the bird-glass issue at the new Vikings Stadium.

In a response to a vile climate change piece by clean coal hack Mike Duncan.

A philosophical basis for a coal lobbyist to quit his support of the coal lobby.

I argue the definitive case for reinstating the ban on elephant tusks into the United States.

10 years after its publication, I review the enduring climate change denier's muse.