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The Dirty Truth About Clean Coal

Critical electoral votes have made it a potent campaign issue, but it's still years away
Photo-illustration by Sean McCabe, Obama photograph by Scott Olson/Getty Images, McCain photograph by Mary Altaffer/AP Photo

Get ready for the selling of "clean coal." A $40 million industry-sponsored marketing and lobbying campaign has launched, with one national television spot featuring a farmer, a teacher, and a woman in a white lab coat declaring: "I believe"—while a voiceover describes how coal can be burned in an environmentally friendly manner.

With coal-rich swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia critical to the Presidential race, both Barack Obama and John McCain have endorsed the idea that coal is well on its way to becoming a benign energy source. Obama's primary campaign in Kentucky sent out flyers in May showing the smiling Democratic candidate, a coal barge, and the message "Barack Obama believes in clean Kentucky coal."