Wednesday, March 7, 2018

America Is Finally Catching Up on Clean Coal - By Christopher Mendoza

When Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement last June, France, Germany, and Italy were quick to subject Washington to a never-ending barrage of criticism.  But in what can be described only as the height of hypocrisy, these same countries have been more than happy to keep their power plants running using American coal.  As so often when coal is involved, the gap between their rhetoric and action exposes the painful dishonesty infecting the debate.
In 2017, total American coal exports increased by 58 percent compared to 2016, amounting to 95 million tons – of which 40 million went to Europe, despite the continent's leaders' vow of curtailing coal.  That the Obama administration was out to severely curtail fossil fuel use is well known.  The former president's scorn for coal was abundantly obvious, and the Paris agreement was its embodiment.  Despite proclaiming the U.S. the "Saudi Arabia of coal," in May 2008, Obama soon back-flipped once in office and turned against the resource.
Within a year, Obama unleashed the war on coal when he proposed a nationwide cap-and-trade system targeting local plants, stifling coal companies with excessive regulation, and cutting billions in funding for clean coal projects across the country.  Worse, what remained of the federal grants for such projects was allowed to be willfully misspent.  In an example of the utter incompetence of the Obama White House, power firm Summit Power Group squandered parts of a $450-million stimulus grant on absurd excesses rather than using the money to advance a long sought after clean coal project in Texas.
Glaring lack of oversight and a willfully destructive attitude toward coal aside, the decision to kill coal was yet another a massive miscalculation of the left.  Failing to look ahead, Obama did his best to unravel American coal during what should have been a time of progress for clean coal technology development.
Luckily, the current White House is taking a different approach in an attempt to make up for lost time.  Instead of throwing millions and millions of taxpayer dollars at renewables, the 2019 budget proposal flat-out slashes funding for renewable energy – an industry that remains all too immature to cover a significant amount of U.S. energy needs despite previous government handouts.
The financial groundwork for effective clean coal technology research is buoyed through a host of measures to boost investments into carbon capture technology.  A plan for tax credit extensions will incentivize carbon capture by offering a tax extension for every ton of carbon dioxide that is captured and then either sequestered or used in another field of production, such as oil recovery.  At the same time, the Department of Energy's Fossil Energy Research and Development will receive a cash injection of $502 million.
Naturally, Democrats are up in arms about these policy moves.  Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, released a press statement deriding the budget proposal's priorities as "not the priorities of the American people."  Like so many of his fellow perennial do-gooders, he is gravely mistaken.  For starters, the export increases to Europe (and Asia) haveboosted mining jobs across the U.S., signaling an unexpected renaissance for an industry that was fighting for its life not too long ago.  The surge is such that coal-producers are reopening previously shut down mines.  In Indiana, for example, coal firm Alliance Resource Partners is reopening a mine it had to decommission in 2015, the same year the Paris agreement was forced through.
The constructive approach to coal is not only bolstering the domestic economy; it is also central to advancing American interests abroad.  The U.S. has clawed itself back into a position to rapidly advance its know-how in the clean coal sector at a time when major world economies are investing heavily in coal power.  For example, India will continue to rely first and foremost on clean coal, using high-efficiency, low-emission (HELE) coal plants, for at least another 30 years to cover its growing energy needs.  And in China, the International Energy Agency has predicted that coal will account for more than 55% of energy demand by 2022.
In pushing for a global "Clean Coal Alliance" at the U.N. climate conference in Germany late last year, the U.S. forcefully asserted its claim to leadership in boosting clean coal use around the globe.  An alliance including Australia, Indonesia, China, India, Ukraine, Poland, and Japan would also place a lot of pressure on international institutions like the World Bank to reconsider their needlessly rigid stance on renewables.  The World Bank in the past demonstrated a clear bias in favor of renewables projects by ending financial support for coal-fired plants.  Yet recent budget plans add a lot of weight and credibility to the creation of the alliance, providing coal-reliant countries with the means to circumvent World Bank restrictions.
Despite years of missed opportunity and wasted money, the Trump administration is kicking production into overdrive.  Never mind the naysayers: the Europeans themselves have clearly realized they cannot sustain their economies through other fuel sources alone.  And while the ideologues at home cry foul play, it is important to remember that this country was built on coal, innovation, and invention.  America is back on track to lead the way.