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New Coal Cares™ Campaign Targeting Link Between Coal And Asthma Leaves Viewers Breathless

Peabody Energy seemed to have a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day yesterday as they started to receive curious phone calls from consumers asking just how many Justin Beiber inhalers they were planning on giving away, and how courageous it was that a coal company was stepping up to acknowledge the role that pollution from their coal plants makes people sick, especially kids with asthma. Alas, the PR team at Peabody was quite confused on both accounts.

Around 9:00 am eastern time, a new “market-friendly public health initiative” hit journalists’ email inboxes announcing the launch of Coal Cares™, a campaign from Peabody Energy that would give away free novelty-themed inhaler actuators and also generously offer a $10-off coupon for the actual asthma medication, but only if you lived within 200 miles of a coal plant (news flash, you probably do).

The website is full of satirical gems and slick imagery. Yet the twitterverse was rampant with confusion yesterday as to whether the website was real or not (newsflash, it's not). Proving that the line between reality and fiction may have officially been irreparably blurred, some wondered why there was no Lady Gaga inhaler option while others couldn’t decide if solar energy really could “instantly fry an entire extended family or even village to death, were it located at the point of focus of the solar energy beams,” or if wind turbines really could unleash a fury of tornadoes because of the “butterfly effect”. Although to be quite honest, I wouldn’t put it past a dirty energy company to try to pull off something like offering free inhalers while simultaneously calling themselves “sustainable” because they boast their products are made from recycled plastic.

It was in fact, a beautifully elaborate hoax carried out by the Yes Men's new collaborative initiative, the Yes Lab, along with a group Coal is Killing Kids. It not only included the fake website, but a Change.org petition, and an increasingly hilarious twitter feed.

My particular favorite appears on the Kidz Koal Korner page (acronym KKK) where I can’t actually find any of the listed words in the Word Find puzzle, but I do see the words “propaganda” and “fuel n lies” discretely mixed in.

The site was supposed to be a “goodwill campaign from your neighbors at Peabody Coal.” Peabody Coal is the world’s largest private-sector coal company with $7 billion in revenue for 2010. They also put $6 million of that revenue towards lobbying Congress to lower pollution standards put forth by the EPA. This is the same pollution that emits heavy metals, acids, benzene, and even formaldehyde by the billions of tons into the air. It’s the same pollution that also sends kids to the emergency room with severe asthma attacks.

New public health measures would require coal plant operators to install scrubbing technology on their smokestacks to reduce this pollution, instead of passing along these costs onto struggling families in the form of higher health care bills.

So what did Peabody have to say about all this? A few hours after the release of Coal Cares™, Peabody issued a ridiculous press release about its pride in being able to “help hundreds of millions of people live longer and better through coal-fueled electricity… The United Nations has linked life expectancy, educational attainment and income with per-capita electricity use, and the World Resources Institute found that for every 10-fold increase in per-capita energy use, individuals live 10 years longer.”

Whoops, not so fast there. Let’s check some of those “facts.”

The World Resources Institute quickly rebutted Peabody by pointing out that WRI never in fact said any such thing. Wired.com also released a comprehensive article debunking Peabody’s claims. Several reports issued recently by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force, and the EPA confirm that pollution from coal-fired power plants kills approximately 13,000 people a year, with thousands more hospitalized for heart attacks and other diseases associated with coal pollution.

These studies confirm that coal power ends up costing the American people a collective hospital bill of a whopping $100 billion a year. Reports have also shown that implementing public health and safety protections to cut this pollution could save lives and decrease healthcare costs.

The reason the Coal Cares™ website had to go to such farcical lengths to demonize clean energies like wind and solar is because they are significantly safer ways of producing energy – and far cheaper when those externalized healthcare and other costs are factored in. It’s quite satirical in itself that there still exists a debate about the choice of remaining addicted to dirty and deadly coal or transitioning to clean energy technologies that, well, don’t inflame children’s lungs.

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