Like me, you may have been wondering which of the bizarre comments from last week’s coal debate in the Minnesota Legislature would gain the most traction: God, fetuses, or cats?

The answer, it turns out, is cats. In retrospect, this should come as no surprise, as one of the primary functions of the internet is to serve as a worldwide portal for cat photos.

The Environmental Defense Fund has seized upon Minnesota Rep. Peggy Scott’s comment comparing the health effects from coal pollution to those from cat dander, and has asked its Facebook fans to post pictures of scary cats in response.

Rep. Scott’s point was that pollution is only one thing that can cause asthma attacks, and she’s of course correct about that. My wife has mild asthma, and is also allergic to cats. So I completely get the point about cat dander.

What makes Scott’s comment so absurd is that cats are remarkably easy to avoid. I can’t think of the last time I’ve been in the same room with one.

If air pollution were that easy to stay away from, we wouldn’t have much of a problem.

This whole coal/asthma thing has actually been a minor sensation in right-wing media recently. In April, President Obama said in a Virginia town hall meeting that coal pollution “creates asthma for kids nearby.” Media Matters wrote about the reaction from Fox News and other outlets, which was essentially that Obama claimed coal causes asthma, the National Institutes of Health says we don’t know what causes asthma, therefore the president is lying about coal causing health problems.

Rep. Scott made a similar point in her effort to downplay the health impact of burning coal, making a careful distinction between whether pollution causes asthma or merely exacerbates the symptoms.

The causes of asthma are varied and unknown. That’s true. But multiple studies have connected pollution from coal plants to incidences of asthma attacks.

We got a first-hand account of this in March when reporter Adam Burke explored issues surrounding air pollution in Muscatine, Iowa. In this video, Jennifer Bower explains health problems that she and her daughter have experienced since moving to the town, which has the dirtiest air in the state:

YouTube video

We didn’t ask about cat dander, though. Oddly enough, the thought never occurred to us.

Photo by Edgar Daniel Fernandez Rodriguez via Creative Commons

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.