Bloomberg analyzes the Obama-Gore split about coal. Gore's organization is spending hundreds of millions of dollars for clean-coal trash-talking while Obama defines clean coal as one of his big goals that should get billions of dollars from his budgets.
As a former kid in the most industrialized socialist country, I know quite a lot about dirty coal. We were surely not breathing and talking about carbon dioxide which is a clean, friendly gas. The plants were emitting megatons of sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide, aerosols, uranium, and everything else you remember from your chemistry (and nuclear physics) classes. ;-) The Czech brown coal is very rich, indeed.
In the 1980s, plastic materials that could be burned into pure H2O and CO2 were classified as completely clean. And it was very sensible. People were dreaming that something similar could have been done with coal - and with some modern filters, it has almost become the reality in the last two decades.
Well, if some people want to treat CO2 as a pollutant, that completely changes the equation. At this moment, the technologies to sequester or otherwise suppress the CO2 are not viable. Whether or not research will make them viable in the medium term is a speculative question. No one can know for sure.
The real political question is of course not concerned with these prophesies. The real political question is what the U.S. and other countries are going to do with coal before the hypothetical research miracle comes true. ;-) And it's pretty clear that Gore and similar luddites would love to ban it while Obama is likely to support it and describe the old-fashioned coal as a material that is going to become clean in the future.
Because of Obama's key role in the administration, crazy people who also care about their careers - such as Steven Chu - are beginning to rationalize their opinions about coal. In 2007, Steven Chu described coal as "his worst nightmare". In January 2009, it became a "great natural resource". :-)
Things may become interesting - and hopefully different than Gore would like them to be.