In a rambling, often incoherent speech, to his die-hard supporters in Phoenix on Tuesday night, President Trump boldly predicted that “clean coal” was back.
“We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal and it’s just been announced that a second, brand new coal mine where they’re going to take out clean coal — meaning they’re taking out coal, they’re going to clean it — is opening in the state of Pennsylvania,” said the President.
His comments were immediately criticized by the scientific community, who said, not for the first time, that Trump actually doesn’t understand what he is talking about.
Pieter Tans, the lead scientist of the Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Colorado told ABC News that “The concept of ‘clean coal’ is industry propaganda,” before adding: “He clearly doesn’t know what he’s talking about. It sounds like he thinks that they’re going to wash the coal. It doesn’t make any sense. There’s no such thing as clean coal.”
Steve Clemmer, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, added “Every time he refers to the word ‘coal,’ he puts the word ‘clean’ in front of it. Or ‘beautiful’. That signals to me that he doesn’t understand what most people refer to ‘clean coal’ as.”
Indeed, as Matt Lucas, the associate director at the Center for Carbon Removal, points out: “‘Clean coal’ refers to capturing the carbon dioxide after the coal is burned.”
As the President promotes the misnomer that is “clean coal”, his Administration is trying to bury how dirty it is. Trump is trying to stop a major scientific study looking at health risks associated with living near mountaintop mining sites in Appalachia.
The study, by National Academy of Sciences, was to “examine the potential relationship between increased health risks and living in proximity to sites that have been or are being mined or reclaimed for surface coal deposits.”
At the time the study was announced, in August 2016, a news release from the Office of Surface Mining cited a “growing amount of academic research” that suggests “possible correlations” between increased public health risks and living near mountaintop removal sites.”
For example, just on birth defects, one academic research found that the prevalence rate ratio “for any birth defect was significantly higher in mountaintop mining areas compared to non-mining areas after controlling for covariates. Rates were significantly higher in mountaintop mining areas for six of seven types of defects: circulatory/respiratory, central nervous system, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, urogenital, and ‘other’.”
However, Trump doesn’t want people to know how dirty coal is. Last Friday, the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement sent a letter to the Academy withdrawing its $1 million funding for the study.
The letter states that the Department “has begun an agency-wide review of its grants and cooperative agreements in excess of $100,000, largely as a result of the Department’s changing budget situation.”
In response, Bill Price from the local Sierra Club said that “Trump has once again shown the people of Appalachia that we mean nothing to him.”
Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, added in a statement: “Stopping this study is a ploy to stop science in its tracks and keep the public in the dark about health risks as a favor to the mining industry, pure and simple”.
As Trump tries to stop the study, further evidence of the legacy of old coal mines has been revealed in Australia.
New scientific research has found that millions of litres of highly toxic water is escaping from a derelict mine into Sydney’s drinking water catchment.
The pollution is so bad that Dr Ian Wright, a leading Australian scientist, called it “internationally significant”. “I’ve been studying coal mines and water pollution associated with coalmines for nearly 20 years in the Sydney basin,” he told ABC News in Australia.
Wright warned that the pollution could “go for decades,” or even longer. “I’m sorry to say I have no idea, but I suspect this will be going for centuries,” he said.
The Australian research is yet another reason to study the environmental and health impact of all types of coal mining in the US. And yet again proves there is no such thing as “clean coal”.