United Mine Workers President Cecil Roberts issued a statement saying, "Despite what the McCain campaign and some far right-wing blogs would have Americans believe, Senator Obama has been and remains a tremendous supporter of coal and the future of coal."
Obama campaign officials provided reporters with a collection of responses "for background purposes," but spokesman Dan Leistikow would say on the record only that Obama "has outlined a $150 billion investment in clean coal and other technologies to create jobs and build a new economy."
Transcript of Obama's coal remarks
Here is a transcript of the question and answer regarding coal during Sen. Barack Obama's interview with the San Francisco Chronicle on Jan. 17, 2008:
Chronicle: Senator, you introduced a bill promoting coal to liquid fuels, and then you said you'd only support them if they emitted fewer greenhouse gases than gasoline. Now, all of the scientific evidence supports to coal being dirtier than pretty much anything else. So how are you going to square your support for coal with the need to fight global warming?
Obama: I've already done it. I voted against the Clear Skies bill, in fact I was the deciding vote, despite the fact that I'm a coal state and that half of my state thought I had thoroughly betrayed them, because I think clean air is critical and global warming is critical.
But this notion of no coal, I think is an illusion. Because the fact of the matter is that right now we are getting a lot of our energy from coal and China is building a coal power plant once a week. So what we have to do is we have to figure out how can we use coal without emitting greenhouse gases and carbon, and how can we sequester that carbon and capture it. If we can't, then, we're going to still be working on alternatives.
Chronicle: Alternatives including coal?
Obama: Let me kind of describe my overall policy. What I have said is that we would put a cap and trade system in place that is as aggressive if not more aggressive than anybody else's out there.
I was the first to call for a 100 percent auction on the cap and trade system, which means that every unit of carbon or greenhouse gas that is emitted would be charged to the polluter.
That would create a market in which whatever technologies are out there being presented, whatever power plants are being built, they would have to meet the rigors of that market, and the ratcheted down caps that are imposed every year.
So if somebody wants to build a coal power plant, they can, it's just that it would bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted.
That will also generate billions of dollars that we can invest in solar, wind, biodiesel and other alternative energy approaches. The only thing that I've said with respect to coal, I haven't been some coal booster. I have said that, for us to take coal off the table as an ideological matter, as opposed to saying that if technology allows us to use coal in a clean way we should pursue it, that I think is the right approach.
The same with respect to nuclear. Right now we don't know how to store nuclear waste wisely and we don't know how to deal with some of the safety issues that remain. So it's widely expensive to pursue nuclear energy. But I tell you what, if we could figure out how to store it safely, then I think most of us would say that might be a pretty good deal.
The point is if we set rigorous standards for the allowable emissions, then we can allow the market to determine, and technology and entrepreneurs to pursue what is the best approach to take, as opposed to us saying at the outset, here are the winners that we're picking, and maybe we pick wrong and maybe we pick right.