About the Film

DIRTY BUSINESS: “Clean Coal” and the Battle for Our Energy Future is a 90-minute documentary produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting that investigates the true cost of our dependence on coal for electricity in the age of climate change. Politicians and corporate interests have mounted a formidable public relations campaign promoting “clean coal” as a solution to our energy/climate problem. Despite major concerns on the part of scientists and environmental groups, there has been little public education about this issue, which was a high-profile topic of the 2008 presidential campaigns and is a central element of President Obama’s energy policy.

Can coal ever really be made “clean”? If we were to try to wean ourselves off coal, how would we keep the lights on? Is renewable energy ready for prime time? Guided by Rolling Stone reporter Jeff Goodell, DIRTY BUSINESS seeks answers in a series of stories: citizens fighting to build a solar power plant instead of a new coal plant in Nevada; a Kansas cowboy saving his cattle ranch with wind power; doctors tabulating the true cost of coal pollution in the damaged health of newborns in China, where a new coal plant goes up every week; innovators making a southern Rust Belt factory so energy efficient that it will steal jobs back from China.

America burns more than a billion tons of coal a year—and coal-fired power plants are the single greatest source of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. Many of us are not aware that even now, in a world globally connected by the Internet, half our electricity still comes from this dirty, nineteenth century technology. DIRTY BUSINESS investigates the coal lobby’s $40 million dollar campaign to convince us that the technology to make coal “clean” already exists. In fact, that technology—called “carbon capture and storage”—is not in full commercial operation anywhere in the world, and experts say that may not happen for 15 years or more, and even then may not be economically viable.

DIRTY BUSINESS is the first major public media project to explain and demystify “clean coal” and to explore the extent to which increased energy efficiency and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar thermal power might make “clean coal” unnecessary and uneconomical.

The film was written, produced and directed by Peter Bull and co-produced by Justin Weinstein, the team that produced the PBS FRONTLINE and CIR co-production, Hot Politics, about the politics of global warming. The narrator and editorial consultant on Dirty Business is Jeff Goodell, author of Big Coal, the Dirty Secret Behind America’s Energy Future and contributing editor for Rolling Stone magazine (www.jeff-goodell.com). Alex Gibney, producer/director of the 2008 Academy Award winning documentary, Taxi to the Dark Side, is consulting producer on DIRTY BUSINESS.

The project received funding from The 11th Hour Project, Cow Hollow Fund, Deer Creek Foundation, Educational Foundation of America, Fledgling Fund and the Fred Gellert Family Foundation.

See trailer and full credit list here.

Reviews

“Dirty Business is a dramatic reminder of where our electricity comes from and of the enormous environmental and human price we pay for cheap energy. This compelling documentary drives home the point that ‘Clean Coal’ is a cynical advertising slogan and political tool aimed at maintaining the primacy of King Coal and pushing cleaner, safer energy alternatives to the side. Dirty Business also demonstrates how coal mining and burning disrupts and degrades communities and ecosystems, from the coal-producing regions of Appalachia to coal-consuming areas of Nevada and China. Dirty Business is a must-see for anybody concerned with our environment and energy future.”
Brent Yarnal, Professor and Associate Head, Department of Geography, The Pennsylvania State University

“Impressive, scientifically accurate and interesting…Dirty Businessdoes an excellent job of explaining that, while removing carbon dioxide from coal emissions is technically possible, it is a project of such vast proportions that it is unlikely to be successful in the long run…The fact that the coal industry can spend millions of dollars on advertising and that there is no equivalent counter weight to the self-serving misinformation being distributed is a very significant factor in the energy debate. We need more and better sources of information, for example this film, available and prominent in the public’s awareness…I will definitely show this film to both of my environmental science classes and I am sure the film will generate a lively class discussion and give students ideas for follow up research.”
Dr. Kyle Forinash, Professor, Department of Natural Sciences, Indiana University Southeast, Author, Foundations of Environmental Physics: Understanding Energy Use and Human Impacts

“Dirty Business provides a comprehensive look at the pervasive presence of fossil fuels and electrical power in all aspects of modern life…[and] demonstrates how the concentrated power of the coal industry holds us all hostage at a time when we need to be seeking innovative, sustainable energy alternatives, including increased efficiency, wind, solar and even recycled heat from already existing manufacturing plants. Dirty Business investigates what the coal industry means by clean coal…and demonstrates the inherent contradictions in the term. With a clear eye on the connections between political power and the electrical grid, the film maps the difficulties we face in pursuing a sustainable energy economy.”
Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Missouri-Columbia, Author, Removing Mountains: Extracting Nature and Identity in the Appalachian Coalfields

“Dirty Business provides a multi-faceted examination of energy development, use, and waste disposal worldwide…Because it makes such an effort to present all viewpoints, the information provided is much more credible than most films on this topic. The movie would be an exceptional classroom tool because it describes the viewpoints of energy developers, energy users, and the people who live near extraction and waste disposal sites. Legislators, researchers and students in energy and environmental policy courses would find this film to be an eye opener. I have been teaching energy and environment policy for several years, but have never shown a film in class due to the strong bias usually present. I will definitely use this film the next time I teach the course. It is the best film I have seen on the topic.”
Dr. Susan Hunter, Associate Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University

“The best and most comprehensive look at global dependence on coal, and explores some promising alternatives…wind, solar thermal, increased energy efficiency through recycling ‘waste heat’–which makes this a valuable resource for science as well as social studies classes…Dirty Business is a fine and lively overview of a complicated issue.”
Rethinking Schools

“Dirty Business reminds us of the sobering costs of coal-generated electricity, dramatic vistas of communities devastated by mountain-top-removal mining, and surreal images of Chinese cities through a coal pollution haze. Especially interesting was the footage of current and historic interviews with Don Blankenship, CEO of Massey Energy Co., the 6th largest coal company in the U.S. and operator of the Upper Big Branch, which killed 29 Kentucky miners in an April 2010 explosion. The icing on the cake is the outtake during the credits to the film: Blankenship abruptly terminates his interview.”
K.K. DuVivier, Professor of Law, University of Denver Sturm College of Law, Author, The Renewable Energy Reader (forthcoming)