SEJ 2006: Energy Companies Try to Out-Clean Each Other

Energy companies, both new and old, are crowded into the Society of Environmental Journalists conference here in Burlington, Vermont, all playing up the environmental profile of their products. Most are represented by their trade and marketing associations.

First up, we have the diesel lovers. Make that clean diesel lovers. They’re very insistent on that modifier. It seems diesel fuel is getting cleaner all the time, suggesting it might be possible for such vehicles to be sold more widely in the U.S.

Just like the carmakers mentioned below, the Diesel Technology Forum has cars available for attendees to test out: the BMW 120d, Mercedes E320 CDI, and Volkswagen Jetta TDI. In addition, they’re giving out little big rig trailers made out of squishy foam, which have been very popular.

Next up are the companies represented by the Nuclear Energy Institute, which have been hoping for a while that global warming would be their savior. After all, atomic energy doesn’t generate greenhouse gases. As NEI’s own material puts it, “We need more electricity and we want clean air. With nuclear energy, we can have both.” Unfortunately, many of the same people doing climate change advocacy work today are the same ones who staffed the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s and 80s. Global warming may be “the greatest threat facing mankind,” but that doesn’t mean the environmental movement is going to embrace nuclear. It’s just not a position an ideological fashionable person takes.

NEI’s table giveaways are among the best. You’ve got a “Nuclear: The clean air technology” luggage tag, a small coaster/miniature mouse pad, a pen, and a pellet of uranium. Well, it’s just a “simulated fuel pellet,” but it’s interesting to know that something that small could replace an entire ton of coal. They’ve also got a fascinating pamphlet on the “effects and benefits of radiation.” Anyone who is willing to engage the general public on the benefits of radiation has my admiration.

Now we come to coal, represented at SEJ by the group Americans for Balanced Energy Choices. I initially suspected they could also be called Coal Companies for Not Being Regulated out of Existence (which, of course, would be entirely legitimate) but apparently they have 100,000 members across the country.

The most interesting item the coal people were offering was actually on video — the TV spots they’ve been running nationwide on why “coal is the fuel for our future” featuring child actors making their case. The ABEC representatives said the reaction to them has been mixed, with some anti-coal people hurling “how dare you” comments about them using kids as spokespeople. It would be interesting to see some focus group data on how the general public is reacting to them.