Fossil-fuel makeover: 'Clean' and 'green' is as polluting as ever

Coal and oil companies are pouring millions of dollars to style themselves as clean and 'green.' But just because they say it doesn't make it true. 

David J. Phillip/AP/File
In this 2011 file photo, exhaust rises from smokestacks in front of piles of coal at NRG Energy's W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas. Fossil fuel industries are pouring millions of dollars into revamping their image as clean and 'green.'

Have you noticed how environmentally-friendly the fossil fuel industry has become? Everywhere I look I’m seeing ads from coal and oil companies touting the good things they’re doing to help people and the planet.

If you watch any of the dozens of recent coal, oil or gas advertisements, you would never guess what these industries are really up to.  They paint a pretty green picture of their industries, making claims like “we strengthen communities” and pushing forward fictional concepts like “clean coal.”

But calling something clean and green doesn’t always mean it is. The sad truth is that polluting coal, oil, and gas companies are pouring millions of dollars to redefine their industries as healthy, clean, and green. They’re sweeping their dirty practices (and deadly coal ash) under the rug. Misleading advertising campaigns are just the latest efforts to cover up for the fact that these companies are blocking clean energy jobs, unraveling basic air and water protections, and setting Americans back decades.

Clean energy is an important part of the growing green economy, which already provides jobs to nearly 3 million Americans. In today’s economy, it’s a wonder that these fossil fuel companies would disparage any job, especially considering that more Americans work in the wind and solar industries than in coal mining.


And our most vulnerable communities are the ones who stand to benefit most from green jobs, because these jobs tend to pay more but have fewer educational hurdles. These are the kind of jobs that help people escape poverty permanently. When polluters stand in the way of clean energy jobs, they add insult to injury.

This point of contention is not to pit one hard-working American against another. The shift towards a clean, green economy would create more healthy, safe, family-supporting jobs. A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute found that greener industries grow faster than the overall economy, so further investment in the clean economy will continue to generate a greater number of sustainable jobs that cannot be outsourced.

However, coal, oil and gas companies continue to funnel millions of dollars into advertising and political campaigns who, in turn, vote to stifle the clean energy economy. The result? This Congress is the most anti-environment in history. It has voted more than 300 times against initiatives to safeguard our air and water, protect public health, and provide job training for American workers in green industries.

The fossil-fueled media blitz will only get stronger as the presidential election draws near. The stakes are high and the competition is fierce in many coal, oil, and gas-dependent swing states, where organizations like the American Energy Alliance will shell out over $2 million to advertise outright attacks to vilify the clean economy.

We can’t let them get away with covering up the truth. We’re working to expose green washing on behalf of coal, oil, and gas executives and their compensated spokespeople, with our very own Gene Vashing as a satirical example of just how far those industries will go.

– Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is chief executive officer of Green For All, an advocacy group for a clean-energy economy based in Oakland, Calif., and Washington, D.C.

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