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During His Phoenix Speech, It Became Painfully Clear Donald Trump Doesn’t Know What ‘Clean Coal’ Means

“We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal,” he said immediately before revealing he doesn’t understand what clean coal is.

During a typically unfocused and blustery speech in Phoenix on Tuesday night, President Trump touched on an issue he’s addressed many times prior: coal. More specifically, he spoke to the rally about clean coal, a technology that he’s championed repeatedly despite his apparent inability to understand what exactly “clean coal” is as a product or a concept.

Here’s his understanding of how clean coal works, as he conveyed it to the attendees and a national television audience:

He remarked: “We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal. And it’s just been announced that a second brand-new coal mine where they’re going to take out clean coal — meaning they’re taking out coal, they’re going to clean it — is opening in the state of Pennsylvania.”

What Trump described is nothing close to the actual process that results in “clean coal,” a term the coal industry itself came up with to rebrand its product in the face of potential climate change legislation.

In reality, clean coal is just … coal. It’s what happens after coal is burned that makes differentiates clean coal from regular coal.

Popular Mechanics explains clean coal both in theory and in practice, saying the label has been slapped on myriad technologies and processes used to market coal as being better for the Earth than it actually is. However, when the term is most often used, it’s shorthand for a process called carbon capture and storage (CCS).


CCS is the trapping of carbon emissions from burned coal followed by the storage of that trapped carbon somewhere safer than our air — generally underground.

President Trump seems to be convinced that clean coal is something as intuitive as the name suggests. You get some coal, you clean it, then you burn the cleaner stuff and it’s … beautiful. There is a process known as “washing coal” that removes the ash content from mined coal before it’s burned, but if Trump didn’t know what clean coal was, there’s little chance he misattributed the name to a lesser-known process.

As the country has seen time and again, Trump is ignoring the facts to suit his own ends. But he’s hardly alone in that regard when it comes to the concept of “clean coal.” According to Popular Mechanics, an effective CCS operation can capture about 90% of the carbon dioxide produced at a plant, but this statistic fails to address the countless other byproducts released when burning a fossil fuel. Mercury, nitrogen oxide, and other compounds will often still find their way into our air.

It’s doubtful that the nation needs a reminder here, but just in case: Don’t get your science education from President Donald Trump.

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