This one promises to be quite a fight. In the one corner stands the former US Vice President Al Gore and his Alliance for Climate Protection. In the other is current President Obama, riding high on a wave of popularity and public expectation.

In the middle stands the concept of clean coal and the future of American energy policy. You could also argue that the future of the climate hangs in the balance too. Gore and the Alliance say clean-coal technology is a fantasy. Peabody Energy, the largest biggest U.S. coal producer, says it has Obama’s backing to make the technology a reality.

As Bloomberg reports “The Gore-Obama split illustrates a growing debate in the U.S. as the new president attempts to deliver on his promise to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the country 80 percent by 2050. Depending on who’s speaking, coal is either the villain or part of the solution.”

So why is coal so important? Because it provides half of US electricity and with it 30 percent of the greenhouse-gas emissions. Let battle commence. As Michael Northrop and David Sassoon from Yale Environment 360 argue “In the short term, the question of coal rests largely in Obama’s hands, and he has the authority to stop new dirty coal plants cold.”

In the meantime the hot debate is taking to the airways, with the Alliance pledging to spend  $300 million over 3 years. In the adverts, it is portraying clean coal as a mirage.  One ad features an actor playing a coal company executive says, “Don’t worry about climate change, leave that to us.”

Hitting back, pro-coal adverts are being aired by companies such as Peabody, Southern Co. of Atlanta and American Electric Power Company – and their adverts show excerpts from a speech Obama gave last September: “Clean-coal technology is something that can make America energy-independent,” Obama says in the ad, which has run on cable channels such as CNN, Fox News and MSNBC.

But the contradictions of clean coal are already beginning to show within the Obama Administration. His Energy Secretary Steven Chu called coal his “worst nightmare” in 2007. However, at his Senate confirmation hearing last month, Chu said the fuel is a “great natural resource” that the “the U.S., with its great technological leadership, should rise to the occasion to develop.”

This is a worrrying U-turn from Chu and sends the wrong signals from the Obama camp.