John McArdle, E&E Reporter

DETROIT -- House Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers (D-Mich.) today said "clean coal" doesn't exist and thatWest Virginia coal miners should switch to other jobs during a speech at the opening session of U.S. EPA's 2011 Environmental Justice Conference.

"From my limited understanding, there is no such thing as clean coal," said Conyers, filling in for EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who had been invited to give this morning's keynote address.

The American public continues to be bombarded by the idea that coal has a future in this country due to powerful special interest groups and regional advocates, Conyers said.

"There's a big campaign going on about how you clean coal and we want to examine that as critically and fairly as we can, but here's the problem: I've been to West Virginia, and that's about all they've got there," Conyers said.

Conyers -- who over his nearly 50 years in Congress has been a leader on the Democratic side of the aisle in the fight against large fossil fuel producers, particularly big oil -- said the history of coal mining in West Virginia "is one of the sorriest reports you'll ever see."

He called for the industry to be shut down in the state and for those who rely on coal jobs there to find alternative employment.

"We've got to work out a situation in one state of the union, there may be others, in which we come up with alternative ways of creating full employment without just putting everybody out of work," he said.

Conyers comments come two days after U.S. and Chinese officials signed a new intellectual property agreement meant to ease the sharing of innovative technology when it comes to clean coal research (ClimateWire, Aug. 22).

And last week, the Department of Energy announced that it would target more than $50 million toward clean coal technology research over the next four years.

That funding commitment for four separate projects earned praise from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE).

"The Department of Energy is making another important investment in carbon capture and sequestration technologies because they recognize that clean coal technology is essential to meeting our nation's energy and environmental needs," ACCCE Vice President Evan Tracey said in a statement last week. "This investment in research and technologies will help ensure that we can reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while keeping electricity affordable for American families and business."

The congressman saved his assessment of the future of clean coal for the end of a wide-ranging address in which he also decried Congress' lack of understanding of how low income and minority communities are disproportionately affected by pollution.

"Many people in our nation, particularly in the federal legislature, are unappreciative of the dimension and challenges of the environmental issues that cause us to be here today," Conyers said. "Here's what we've got to do: We've got to work out strategies to educate the American people and our elected officials at every level about the magnitude of the problem of environmental justice and fairness."

The 24-term congressman also bemoaned EPA's inability to fully implement the toxic and acid rain reductions goals that Congress set during its revision of the Clean Air Act of 1990.

"It's still in court being challenged and frustrated by the same people that I call the pro-pollution crowd," Conyers said. "1990 and we're still trying to get that plan out. ... I will have more to say about that when Congress resumes two days after Labor Day."

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