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Bankrupt with the Facts

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The blog headline read: "Obama Tells SF Chronicle He Will Bankrupt Coal Industry" and the author charged that the audio of the meeting with Obama "(had) been hidden from the public."

One problem: The charge is utter crap. Far from hiding the meeting, the Chronicle posted audio and video of Barack Obama's meeting with the editorial board on Jan. 17, 2008.

And Obama did not say that he will bankrupt the coal industry. To the contrary, he said, "this notion of no coal, I think, is an illusion." He then explained that he believed in setting emission limits, and letting industry -- including coal -- figure out how to operate within those limits. And: "So if somebody wants to build a coal-powered plant, they can; it's just that it will bankrupt them because they're going to be charged a huge sum for all that greenhouse gas that's being emitted."

I was in the room and my ears did not perk up as if Obama had issued a headline-commanding quote, when he said the above.

Why didn't the paper report on Obama's remarks? Because San Francisco is not Pennsylvania or Ohio. According to the Energy Information Administration, "Due to strict emission laws, only a few small coal-fired power plants operate in California." And a new California law prohibits utilities from entering into long-term contracts with conventional coal-fired power producers.

The Chronicle and other papers have reported that Obama's energy plan calls for a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. That means: no new coal plants in the United States, unless some amazing new technology magically appears. Or unless there is an energy fairy.

Let me add, Obama had made similar statements in other venues. In a January debate, "We're going to cap greenhouse gases. We're going to say to every polluter that's sending greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, 'We're going to charge you a dollar -- we're going to charge you money for every unit of greenhouse gas that you send out there.' That will create a market. It will generate billions of dollars that we can invest in clean technology." I assure you, coal execs weren't dancing with glee.

Sure, after a blogger uses an erroneous headline and falsely claims that the Chronicle kept the interview "hidden," the quote may seem as if it made news. But know this: It was the job of the opposition teams of both Hillary Clinton and John McCain to scrutinize every interview given by Obama word by word. Neither campaign made an issue of this interview when their candidates stumped in Ohio and Pennsylvania -- and it was their job to have listened.

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