November 12, 2014

Peabody Energy CEO: Burning ‘Dung’ Real Environmental Issue, Not Coal

Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce
Peabody CEO Gregory Boyce

Another CNBC interview, another slow pitch interview for a fossil fuel executive.

Not too long ago, Republic Report caught a CNBC producer soliciting climate change denier pundits to “balance” a report about the costs of inaction on carbon emissions. Last weekend, CNBC brought on Gregory Boyce, Peabody Energy’s chief executive, to uncritically discuss how his coal company is attempting to airbrush the image of coal.

“People have this stigma that coal is the dirtiest form of electricity,” said the CNBC reporter. “How do you battle against that stigma?”

That “stigma” is based on reality. Coal-fired power plants are the largest contributors to carbon emissions in the world. The burning of coal also produces a range of other toxic pollutants, including carcinogens such as arsenic and benzene and mercury.

Peabody is the largest private sector coal company in the world, and as Salon’s Dan Zegart and Kevin Grandia recently reported, has set out to change the perception of its product through a slick branding campaign called “Advanced Energy for Life.” The marketing effort, sold by PR giant Burson-Marsteller, attempts to bury the dangers of coal under sloganeering about the role of coal in producing cheap energy. The campaign comes as Peabody is slowly abandoning the U.S. market and is preparing to refocus its company for markets in Asia.

During the interview, Boyce dismissed critics of coal’s impact on the environment and CNBC failed to challenge him once on his claims. Boyce said that clean coal “technology exists today” and can be readibly deployed to mitigate pollution. But clean coal technology has never been proven, and coal firms still have not demonstrated that they can capture and sequester the carbon emitted from burning coal. The United Kingdom’s Advertising Standards Authority agreed with the World Wildlife Fund when the group challenged Peabody for touting its “clean coal,” noting correctly that the technology “was not able to prevent CO2 from being emitted.”

In closing the interview, the CNBC reporter asked about the issue of carbon dioxide emitted from coal plants. Boyce said the burning of “wood and pee” is the real environmental issue, not reducing carbon emissions.

“First and foremost, the biggest environmental issue we have in the world today is three and a half billion people who live in abject poverty because they don’t have electricity,” Boyce continued. “We lose four million people a year to indoor air pollution from burning dung and wood and peat to heat and cook their homes. Those are things we can correct today and not worry about artificial targets we get to 30, 40, 50 years from now.”

Indoor air pollution can be solved through building improvements, like chimneys and renewable energy technology, not through increased coal use. The American Lung Association reports that as many as 13,000 die a year as a result of pollution from the burning of coal.

Watch the interview here:

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