And the American press is catching on. Last Sunday, The New York Times, published an excellent piece last Sunday, headlined “Is America Ready to Quit Coal?” that jumped off from a protest in the front yard of Duke Energy chief executive James E. Rogers. The article, by Melanie Warner, reported that the coal industry “is in a fight for its survival … In the last two-and-a-half years, plans for 83 plants in the United States have either been voluntarily withdrawn for denied permits by state regulators … Nevertheless, the industry sees clean coal technologies as its best hope for joining the ranks of green power,” and 16 gigawatts of new coal-fired generation are expected to come online in the next few years.

So, Obama is right: “[I]f we can figure out how to capture the carbon, that would make an enormous difference in how we operate.” But maybe that’s a waste of time.

As The Washington Post pointed out this week, the EPA is signaling that it might regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act despite industry opposition and the fact that “technology for capturing carbon dioxide emissions is expensive and virtually untested.” Moreover, the stimulus bill passed this week includes only $3.4 billion for fossil fuel research and development projects, according to Grist, while setting aside “at least $62.2 billion in direct spending on green initiatives and $20 billion in green tax incentives.”

Maybe that is indication that we have, in fact, made certain decisions about our priorities. But Obama’s remarks about CCS in Canada yesterday are a signal that other questions remain. One only hopes that in the wake of this winter’s coal-ash spills, the ridiculous debate about whether or not coal is clean will no longer distract the press from raising them.

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.