The Coal Industry's $47 Million PR Spending Spree

— By Kate Sheppard | Fri November 20, 2009 3:00 AM PST

The coal industry's major lobby group, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, shelled out a stunning $47 million last year on lobbying, advertising and "grassroots outreach" efforts to fight climate legislation and tout the benefits of "clean coal." Its efforts to actually develop clean coal technology, however, were a lot less impressive.

ACCCE's most recent IRS filing, obtained by Greenwire (sub. req'd), lists the contributions to the coalition by the nation's biggest coal companies. Arch Coal Inc., Consol Energy Inc., and Peabody Energy Corp. each chipped in $5 million; Foundation Coal Corp. gave $3 million, Southern Co. $2.1 million, and American Electric Power Co. Inc. and Duke Energy Corp. (which has since left the group) gave $2 million. ACCCE is among the biggest spenders when it comes to influencing the debate on climate and energy.

But for all their expensive efforts to sell the public on the wonders of clean coal, ACCCE isn't working quite as hard to make the technology a reality. The coalition's members have committed the comparatively paltry sum of $3.6 billion to research the technology between 2003 and 2017, according to an April report from the Center for American Progress. That's just $257 million on average each year to develop the technology to capture and sequester carbon. To put that in perspective, ACCCE's members made a combined total of $297 billion in profits between 2003 and 2008—meaning, as the report notes, that they're spending less than two cents on clean coal research for every $1 of profit.

In fact, the climate legislation that ACCCE fought—and fought dirty—to defeat in the House would devote far more money toward developing clean coal than the companies have. (Its "grassroots" efforts hit the news after one of its subcontractors, Bonner and Associates forged letters to Congress opposing a climate bill.) If the Waxman-Markey legislation becomes law, it would hand the coal industry $60 billion for so-called carbon capture and storage (CCS) research and development through 2025. The House measure provides an additional $1 billion each year for demonstration and deployment of this technology, to be funded by a fee on consumers. Plus, early adopters of CCS would get bonus carbon credits for every ton of carbon dioxide sequestered by electric utilities.

Yet just days after Waxman-Markey passed the House, a number of ACCCE's biggest funders were complaining to the Senate in public hearings that the bill doesn't give enough money to the coal industry. They also griped that carbon capture and storage technology is more than a decade away from viability, so it would be unreasonable to demand big emissions cuts from the sector anytime soon. "I don’t think CCS will be widely deployed until 2020 or after," Chris Hobson, senior vice president of research and environmental affairs at Southern Company, told senators in July. You'd never guess that from the coalition's website though, which still proudly proclaims: "The technology isn’t 20 years away—some of it is here today."