Kerry slams oil and coal in broad push for renewable power 

Source: Lisa Friedman, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, March 16, 2015

Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said the world must move away from fossil fuels, calling coal and oil “outdated energy sources” that the United States should no longer subsidize at home or overseas.

In what may have been his strongest comments to date about powering a global clean energy transition, Kerry said coal and oil “are only cheap ways to power a nation in the very near term.” But, he argued, both come with heavy social costs like health ills from dirty air and disaster bills from climate catastrophes.

“When you think about the real numbers over time, the costs of those outdated energy sources actually pile up very quickly,” Kerry said. Calling for new investments in solar, wind and hydro “to every community in every country on every continent,” he made a strong push to end new dirty power investments.

“It is time … to do real cost accounting. The bottom line is that we can’t only factor in the price of immediate energy needs. We have to include the long-term cost of carbon pollution. We have to factor in the cost of survival,” he said. “We’ll have to stop government money from going toward nonrenewable energy sources, like coal and oil. It makes no sense to be subsidizing that.”

The comments in a speech to the Atlantic Council think tank come as the Obama administration prepares to submit its formal plan for a new global agreement. The deal, expected to be signed in Paris in December, is supposed to include emissions targets for the years after 2020 from all major emitters of greenhouse gases.

Kerry yesterday declared the United States is already “well on its way” to its pledge to cut emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade. He argued that the upper end of America’s new target — to see levels reach 26 to 28 percent below the same base line by 2025 — puts the country on a path to slashing the majority of its emissions by midcentury. But, he argued, America needs to act hand-in-hand with others, especially emerging economies.

“We know that even the agreement we’re trying to reach in Paris will not completely and totally be able to eliminate the threat. It’s not going to. But it is an absolutely vital first step,” Kerry said.

Coal industry: World needs low-cost electricity

Activists noted that there was little new in Kerry’s speech but said the extent to which he focused on shifting energy investments to renewable sources was notable. Heather Coleman, climate change policy manager for Oxfam America, called it “particularly striking” in light of a still-looming decision the administration must make on the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The focus on dirty energy is one that was much more of a focus than I’ve heard from him before,” Coleman said. “He didn’t speak to tar sands, but he certainly was speaking to dirty coal and oil.”

Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, said in a statement that developing countries “should have access to affordable, reliable, base load electricity; the same base load electricity that powered two industrial revolutions here in the U.S. and is now powering the Internet revolution and data centers across the country.”

Describing coal as the “only feedstock readily available that can provide the electricity to economically power communities here and abroad,” she argued that it can be produced cleanly.

“Even under the Administration’s rosiest projections, renewables could not supplant coal as a base-load domestic energy supplier for decades. So the government should be supporting clean coal technologies that will not only bring cleaner energy to towns and cities across the U.S., but also to people around the globe,” she said.

Kerry in his speech noted that there is “no such thing, in the end, as absolutely clean coal.” He called technologies that can improve efficiency “very helpful” and left the door open to carbon capture and sequestration. But he argued that ultimately, fossil fuels are going to become more expensive than new technologies and noted that wind is expected to become competitive with conventional energy sources within the decade.