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Factcheck: Republican National Convention platform claims coal is clean

Coal-fired power plant

Photo: Robert S. Donovan/cc/flickr

The Republican National Convention starts tonight, and one of the planks of its platform is the unscientific notion that coal is an “abundant, clean, affordable, reliable domestic energy resource.”

Coincidentally, as Grist.org points out, the GOP’s language is nearly identical to that of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, which calls coal an “affordable, abundant, and increasingly clean domestic energy that is vital to providing reliable low-cost electricity.”

Factcheck No. 1: From the mine to the pit, from the ash pond to the smokestack, coal is in reality, a very dirty form of energy. Coal-fired power plants are the biggest emitters of mercury and arsenic. They also emit numerous hazardous compounds, some of them cancer-causing, plus sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which help form acid rain.

Even the EPA, notoriously cautious in wielding its regulatory powers, lists the myriad ways carbon pollution from coal harms human health and the environment:

“Unchecked, carbon pollution leads to long-lasting changes in our climate, such as rising global temperatures … and changes in ecosystems, habitats and species diversity.”

Public health risks include more frequent heat waves and drought, worsening smog, and the increase in the range of ticks and mosquitoes, which can spread diseases like Lyme and West Nile. The very old, very young, the frail, as well as low-income people are particularly at risk for illness, including asthma, from the impacts of pollution and climate change.

Factcheck No. 2: Coal is also not as affordable as the industry and GOP platform claim. The Union of Concerned Scientists reported that in 2012, North Carolina’ power producers, mainly Duke Energy, paid nearly $1.8 billion to import 18.7 million tons of coal from six states, primarily from West Virginia and Kentucky. Even as natural gas expands as an energy source, the average price paid for coal increased in North Carolina, from $79.85 per ton to $93.74, among the highest prices in the U.S.

Factcheck No. 3: And while coal deposits might be abundant, that doesn’t mean they are accessible . While coal reserves total more than natural gas, the U.S. Energy Information Administration notes that because of property rights, land use restrictions, and environmental and physical constraints  little more than half of what’s in the ground can be mined.

But the RNC platform did get one claim correct: Coal is mined in the United States.

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