Sierra Club up to their dirty tricks again

In June of last year, I took part in a moderated debate with Bruce Nilles, head of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal group. We had a lively discussion and batted information and statistics back an forth for about an hour and a half. However, many of Nilles’ arguments were spiced with dirty tricks and personal attacks. Those questionable tactics reached a pronounced low point when he tried to attack the idea of using coal to produce transportation fuels (at the 34 minute mark of the video). He argued,

If we take coal, which is the coal industry’s latest idea. It’s not enough that we burn it, they also want – their idea is to turn it into diesel. Two regimes that have done this in the past; one was the apartheid government in South Africa and one was the Nazi government during World War II

If you listen closely at that point you can hear a murmur and some uncomfortable laughter from the crowd and see the moderator suppress a smirk at Nilles’ illogical tactics. Sadly, this was the level of “argument” that Nilles brought to the discussion; dirty tricks like this guilt by association fallacy, where he tried to impugn coal-to-liquids technology and the entire coal industry by implying that we’re like Nazis or that we support the racist apartheid policies that existed in South Africa from the late 1940s to the 1990s. After all, bad people used coal-to-liquids technology, so the people trying to use those technologies today must be equally bad. This would be like arguing that dairy farmers are evil because Hitler drank milk.

Tactics like these are nonsensical, but it appears that they are the Sierra Club’s stock-in-trade. Sadly, the Sierra Club descended right back into the same type of misdirection and underhanded tactics when their new Executive Director, Michael Brune, starred in a video claiming that the coal industry had developed a new Ipod application. The video is available on YouTube – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhic4H66Fe8. (Yes, we know that we’re linking to the video, but it is worthwhile to expose the actions of this group, so reasonable people can see first hand how they operate.)

In the video, Brune states that the coal industry has developed the Ipod app to trick people by “scrubbing” the language associated with mining and the use of coal. But you had to wait to the end of the video and then copy a link from the final few seconds, then go to the Sierra Club website and read another post before you learned that … surprise … it was all a foolish April Fools joke. The coal industry never came up with these creative redefinitions of terms, it was the Sierra Club that was actually misleading people all along. Citizens for Recycling First rightly noted that,

What makes the “joke” doubly offensive is that the phrases attributed to the coal industry are purely inventions of the Sierra Club. Type “coal ash” into their toy and it will tell you that the coal industry would call it “balanced energy-mix leftovers.” That phrase has never been used by anyone. Seriously, Sierra Club, is that the best you can do? After all, you are an organization that routinely uses the phrase “toxic ash” to describe a material that fails to meet the EPA’s own toxicity definition for “hazardous waste.” Talk about playing word games…

For those who may not be aware, coal ash doesn’t meet the EPA’s toxicity definition for “hazardous waste” because research completed by the American Coal Ash Association shows that the leachate from fly ash meets, or is near drinking water standards in almost all cases. Research completed by EPRI demonstrated that the composition of coal combustion products (CCPs – like fly ash and bottom ash) is very similar to natural geologic materials, like volcanic rock and shale. In the EPRI tests, not one of 80 fly ash samples from 33 power plants exceeded federal hazardous waste test (TCLP) limits.

While this latest Sierra Club attempt to confuse and misdirect borders on pathetic, it isn’t really that big of a surprise. Coming from a group that feels no compunction against tarring the hard-working American miners, utility workers, engineers, railroaders, environmental scientists, ecologists, equipment operators, etc. who work in the coal industry as Nazis, what else can you expect?

02. April 2010 by Jason Hayes
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