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'Clean Coal' Was Ruled False Advertising by UK Regulators

The WWF laid the smackdown on the world's biggest coal company.

"Clean coal" is sort of like an eggless omelet—it just doesn't work. You can filter out particulates and you can try to fund carbon offsets, but as long as your definition of "clean" means not emitting carbon dioxide and other pollutants, well, that's an essential part of getting energy from coal.

Of course, just because a term is largely incoherent doesn't mean it can't be useful, which is why the world's largest private-sector coal firm, Peabody Energy, used it in an ad that appeared in the Financial Times.


The ad described "energy poverty," a lack of adequate access to energy, as the "world's number one human and environmental crisis," and explained that "that's why Peabody Energy is working to build awareness and support to end energy poverty, increase access to low-cost electricity and improve emissions using today's advanced clean coal technologies…Because clean, modern energy is the solution for better, longer and healthier lives."

this technology was not able to prevent CO2 from being emitted during the use of coal

It's easy to see why this would rankle people who are concerned about carbon emissions as well as people who care about truth in adverstising, which is why someone from the former group called on the someone from latter group. The World Wildlife Foundation filed a complaint with the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against the ad. The London-based "independent regulator of advertising across all media" ruled against Peabody and for the WWF.

The complaint was three-fold, hitting on the claim that energy poverty is the world's biggest problem, as well as pointing out that Peabody wasn't really working towards solving that problem, and that the term "clean coal" was misleading the public by implying that coal was clean.

The ASA didn't uphold the first two prongs, but "clean coal" was a smoggy bridge too far. In their decision, posted on their website, the ASA states:


The ASA understood that the phrase "clean coal" was the term given to a branch of research and innovation aimed at reducing the environmental impact of using coal, such as filtering out particulates and preventing or neutralising the emission of waste gases. However, we also understood that this technology was not able to prevent CO2 from being emitted during the use of coal, relying instead on carbon capture and storage, and that although emissions such as sulphur dioxide were reduced, they were still produced.

Although we noted that the ad stated "clean coal" technologies would "improve emissions", we considered that this was not sufficient to make clear the nature of this technology, particularly in the context of the word "clean". Notwithstanding the fact that "clean coal" had a meaning within the energy sector, we considered that without further information, and particularly when followed by another reference to "clean, modern energy", consumers were likely to interpret the word "clean" as an absolute claim meaning that "clean coal" processes did not produce CO2 or other emissions. We therefore concluded that the ad was misleading.

As a result, the agency stated that "the ad must not appear again in its current form," and "told Peabody Energy Inc. to ensure that future ads did not state or imply that their technologies were emission-free or similar unless they could demonstrate that this was the case."

The reactions are pretty predicatable. The WWF said it was delighted, and Breitbart doubled down on deception, under the headline " WWF and Gov't Tag Team To Decry 'Clean Coal' Campaigners" even though the ASA isn't the government.

One thing at a time, though, I guess. Anyone for eggless omelets?