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Press Room:  For Immediate Release 
Explore, Enjoy and Protect the Planet

April 28, 2010

David Graham-Caso
(213) 387-6528 x 214


Dirty, Dangerous and Outdated Source of Energy Discussed in "The Great Coal Debate"
Sierra Club Faces off against Peabody in Debate Hosted by Washington University, St. Louis

Full Debate can be Seen Online at

(ST. LOUIS, MO) – A leader from the country’s oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization, the Sierra Club, faced off against a representative from the largest private-sector coal company in the world, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, in a debate about the future of coal in our country.  “The Great Coal Debate,” which was hosted by the Washington University at St. Louis Student Union on Tuesday evening, was a lively discussion about what place, if any, coal has in the rapidly changing clean energy economy of the future.  The debate took place in front of more than 500 students and community members at Graham Chapel on the campus of Washington University, and was watched live online by nearly 4,700 additional interested observers.

The full debate can be seen online at

“It was a fantastic debate,” said Lindsey Berger, one of the event’s organizers.  “We learned a lot and got to hear important information about coal and the impact that the pollution from burning and disposing of coal has on all of our lives.”

The debate covered a broad range of coal-related topics, including the hazardous dumping of coal combustion waste in unlined pits, the potentially irreversible negative impacts burning the United States' coal reserves would have on the Earth’s climate, as well as the feasibility of carbon capture and sequestration, which the coal industry has labeled “clean coal” and which Peabody Vice President of Government Relations Fred Palmer referred to during the debate as “green coal.”

“Coal guys have been talking about ‘clean coal’ now for a decade,” the Sierra Club’s Deputy Director of Conservation Bruce Nilles said when addressing the topic of carbon capture and sequestration projects.  “[The FutureGen project in Illinois] was supposed to be the demonstration project that showed coal can do something about its global warming pollution, and it is always being held up as ‘its just around the corner, its just around the corner…’ but the project that they are holding up, isn’t happening.

“We have a climate crisis.  Our future is looking increasingly dire every week, and yet this talk is just talk, and more talk, and no action.  So when you scratch back the surface, you see that there is a lot of talk, there’s no money being spent to actually move that [FutureGen] project forward.  It’s always 'just around the corner.'  All the while, we continue to be surrounded by these very dirty coal plants, causing huge amounts of economic and environmental degradation around this country,” Nilles said.

“The real ‘green coal’ is the coal that is kept underground,” Nilles added.  “The real ‘green coal’ is the coal which doesn’t get released into the environment… because we know the scientific consequences of putting it up in the atmosphere is that it hurts our planet.”

The debate also dealt with the negative economic impact coal is having on the United States.  After discussing data complied by the National Academy of Sciences, which quantifies the “hidden costs” of coal (such as the damage air pollution imposes on human health) at $62.3 billion each year, Nilles addressed the “true cost” of coal.

“If you’re actually honest about the cost, coal is the most expensive option out there,” said Nilles.  “And no rational person would build it unless you want to offshore or externalize all of the costs, such as health care and climate, etc.”

The debate also included a series of questions from the audience in attendance at Graham Chapel.  One question, from Patricia Shuba of the Labidie Environmental Organization, focused on the problem presented by the disposal of coal combustion waste.

“Our concerns in Labadie are about the negative externalities of coal,” Shuba said, addressing Palmer.  “Landfills, like the one in our community, hold the mercury, the cadmium, the arsenic, the lead, that is [left over from] burned coal… [Labadie] doesn’t have any way to protect our community from leaching at these unlined ponds.  Can you explain to me how burning more coal can be safe for our community?”

Palmer did not address Shuba’s question.

The full debate can be seen online at

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About the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal Campaign:  The Beyond Coal Campaign, currently directed by Bruce Nilles, aims to move our economy toward a clean energy future by stopping new polluting coal-fired plants, phasing out existing plants, and keeping U.S. coal reserves in the ground and out of international markets.  Thanks in part to the work of the Beyond Coal Campaign, plans for more than 125 new coal plants have been shelved since the beginning of the coal rush, keeping more than 335 million tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Washington University students have worked with the student branch of this campaign, Campuses Beyond Coal, over the past year, as they have urged the Consortium to remove the words "clean coal" from its name.

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