Trump admin to launch ‘clean coal’ effort

Source: Zack Colman, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The White House is launching an effort to expand the use of U.S. coal abroad by cooperating with countries that are highly reliant on the fossil fuel, an administration official told E&E News.

White House energy aide George David Banks is leading the effort known as the “Clean Coal Alliance,” though the official said it will likely include natural gas exports, as well. The Energy Department is taking the departmental lead, according to State Department spokesman Scott Lueders. DOE did not respond to a request for comment.

The effort is meant to be a counterweight to nations like Canada and the United Kingdom, which formed an anti-coal coalition during the United Nations climate talks last month in Bonn, Germany. The White House initiative seeks to boost exports of U.S. coal and technology as domestic utilities turn increasingly to cheap natural gas and renewable power.

Formal outreach to other countries hasn’t begun, but big coal exporters and importers — Australia, Indonesia, China, India, Ukraine, Poland, Japan and others — are expected to be invited to participate in the Trump administration’s fledgling alliance.

“The U.S. is considering pulling together a group of countries that support using cleaner, more efficient fossil fuels,” the official said. “There is an anti-fossil fuel movement being aggressively pursued by a number of countries and environmental activists.”

The news comes after Energy Secretary Rick Perry promoted natural gas production and export at an oil conference in South Africa. For his part, Banks promoted the use of fossil fuels and nuclear technology at a panel in Bonn. Banks also spoke of the forthcoming international outreach effort in a meeting last week with lawmakers and coal companies, including Peabody Energy Corp., FirstEnergy Corp., Arch Coal Inc. and the National Mining Association.

“As follow-up to Secretary Perry’s trip to South Africa, the administration is considering organizing a group of countries that would work together to promote cleaner, more efficient use of fossil fuels, including more highly efficient coal,” the administration official said. “There would likely be a technology track that would seek cooperation in advancing more efficient coal technologies and [carbon capture, utilization and storage].”

The plan underscores the Trump administration’s goal of framing U.S. coal exports and coal technology as cleaner than those being developed by other nations (Climatewire, Nov. 20). Critics have argued that there’s no such thing as clean coal, because it emits twice the amount of carbon dioxide as natural gas and contributes to toxic water and air pollution.

The Trump administration already has taken some steps to buoy U.S. coal overseas. It reversed Obama-era guidance in July to enable U.S. representatives to the World Bank and other multilateral funding institutions to approve public financing of coal-fired power plants abroad. Those institutions will likely be part of the strategy for promoting fossil fuel projects, the official said.

The news comes as President Trump has touted a surge in U.S. coal production and exports this year. While Europe is still the largest importer of U.S. coal, producers are increasingly shipping the fuel to Asia.

“If you look at what’s happened in West Virginia and so many different places, we’re sending clean coal,” Trump said at a Dec. 5 event. “We’re sending it out to different places — China. A lot of coal ordered in China right now. So a lot of things are changing, and they’re changing very rapidly.”