Trump Has Done Nothing To Save Coal, Bush Environmental Czar Says

President Trump claimed in his State of the Union Address "to have ended the war on beautiful clean coal," but coal continues to decline in competition with cheap natural gas. I asked Jim Connaughton, who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality for the George W. Bush Administration, whether Trump has done anything to save the coal industry.
"No," replied Connaughton, who also directed Bush's White House Office on Environmental Policy.
"The only way to save the coal industry is for there to be certainty around the emissions profile, for there to be clarity as to the methods by which you can properly permit and insure environmental health and safety controls on coal mining operations in America, and then—with some very important technology advances—by which you can capture the carbon and reuse it from coal-fired power generation."
Connaughton doesn't fault only Trump for the lack of progress on those three fronts. He faults the coal industry itself, for failing to chart a path to its own survival:
"Now, the only way to make all of that happen is to have a thriving and forward looking coal industry, and so the coal industry should be pushing for regulatory certainty on carbon abatement, which under any scenario would leave a substantial portion of energy mix available for coal," he said.
"But we want it to be new coal, with new technology plants, not old coal sitting around in old plants without the prospect of advancing the capability of carbon capture and storage."
And he faults environmentalists, who fail to accept that coal is a part of the world's energy mix that can't just be dismissed: "The purity of opposition to coal is not going to bring you the result that you seek," he said.
Although China has been closing coal mines and investing in cleaner sources of energy, it ballooned its coal emissions by three billion tons over the past decade, Connaughton said, and it has not invested in technology that will capture the carbon emitted when coal is burned.
"So if we don’t figure it out in America and make it an economically and regulatorily viable solution, we’re not going to achieve anything close to our greenhouse gas abatement ambitions," he said.
"You may as well go home."
Connaughton is not alone in this view. In a December visit to Chicago, former Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz insisted carbon management is the most urgent set of technologies we should be pursuing. Connaughton too expressed a sense of urgency:
"I’m just astounded in the developed world how little money is being spent on carbon abatement from coal. We’re the only ones that are going to do it. We’re missing the point. Coal matters a lot and we’ve got to think through all the pieces to make it work."
My full interview with Connaughton will be broadcast this week on Off the Charts, the podcast of the Energy Policy Institute at Chicago, which I host. I asked him about the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking submitted by Energy Secretary Rick Perry, which would have subsidized coal and nuclear generation.
He called the rule esoteric, because its scope would have been so limited.
"The outcome one way or other is ultimately inconsequential to what we’re talking about because it’s at the margin," he said. The Federal Electricity Regulatory Commission rejected the rule in January.
A better effort would restructure electricity markets to break up monopolies, inspire competition, and set a clear standard for carbon emissions, he said.
This article is part of an ongoing series on conservative climate action.

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