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Note:  (4/27/2010, 4:40 p.m.) This posting has been substantially edited so as not to duplicate the content of an earlier posting, “Wash U Students Kick Ash.”

(Above: Clips from the Great Coal Debate, April 27, 2010; see entire debate here)

Tuesday evening, Fred Palmer, VP of of Government Relations for Peabody Coal, and Bruce Nilles of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign squared off to debate the pros and cons of coal-based energy before an audience of more than 500 people at Washington University’s Graham Chapel. The “Great Coal Debate,” moderated by Bryan Walsh, Environmental Correspondent for Time Magazine, was an outgrowth of student concerns that the University’s embrace of the Peabody-funded Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization might serve coal industry anti-regulation goals as much as the University’s research goals.

Sarah Jo has summarized the the proceedings below. Take a look at her reactions which were spot on.

I will only add to Sarah Jo’s impressions that for me the real icing on the cake was Fred Palmer’s answer (or as Nilles put it, his non-answer) to the moderator’s question about whether or not Palmer believes that climate change was caused by human activity. After a lot of careful hemming and hawing during which he allowed that a lot of smart people, President Obama and Washington University Chancellor Mark Wrighton among them, do believe in anthropogenic climate change, and the respect with which Peabody coal holds these smart people means that the company will work to reduce CO2 emissions, he took refuge in a straw man argument. He declared that he, and, one assumes by extension, Peabody coal, is not inclined to trade the welfare of people right now in order to fix some hypothetical event in the future – as if an either/or scenario were the only possibility.  

Kinda says it all – big, important business people who understand strategic planning don’t believe in taking a huge scientific consensus seriously when weighing future outcomes that affect public welfare. Of course, maybe this live-for-today attitude just might mean that the public welfare is not what moves Peabody coal?