Trump aide touts carbon reductions at global summit

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Trump administration touted the virtues of “clean coal” and advanced nuclear energy as a way to reduce emissions during international talks this week in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Clean Energy Ministerial, a gathering of 25 nations and the European Union accounting for three-quarters of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions, heard roughly the same message the administration brought with it to last year’s United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany, when then-White House energy adviser George David Banks’ pro-fossil-fuels side event erupted with singing climate activists.

This time, Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouillette represented the United States. But instead of singing activists, the meeting drew a smaller cadre of business representatives and policy wonks bent on sharing the technologies and industrial processes they hope will allow the world to decarbonize more quickly.

So there were few fireworks and even fewer cameras.

The United States joined with partners yesterday to launch two initiatives at the summit: a partnership on carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and another on advanced nuclear technologies. And Brouillette — who stood in for Energy Secretary Rick Perry due to a scheduling conflict — surprised some by mentioning the technologies’ benefits in drawing down carbon emissions.

“He framed [nuclear] as a technology that is essential to meeting global economic and environmental thresholds,” said Jeremy Harrell, managing director for policy at the ClearPath Foundation, a conservative group that advocates for climate policy. “I think it’s one of the first times I’ve seen a high-level Trump administration official talking about industrial emissions quite a bit.”

Now in its ninth year, the CEM has traditionally focused on renewable energy and energy efficiency, though CCUS has been discussed before. But Brouillette wrote in a blog post ahead of the event promoting an “all-of-the-above” approach to clean energy.

“The ministerial must consider all options when it comes to carbon-free power, including clean, reliable nuclear energy,” he said, going on to state in prepared remarks for yesterday’s nuclear initiative launch that nuclear could support not only renewable energy deployment but industrial processes and water desalination.

He called CCUS “a proven technology” in remarks prepared for the launch of that initiative.

“When coupled with supportive policies, CCUS technologies can significantly reduce emissions from traditional fossil fuels, create jobs, enhance energy security, and provide improved access to clean energy worldwide,” he said.

Brouillette led a U.S. delegation that included Fossil Energy Assistant Secretary Steven Winberg; Giulia Bisconti, DOE’s lead for the nuclear initiative; and Assistant Secretary for International Affairs Ted Garrish, as well as staff from the national laboratories. It’s the first year the current Energy secretary has not made an appearance.

While Brouillette and others didn’t focus on the Paris Agreement, the CEM had its beginning in the decadeslong quest for an agreement on emissions. It was started by President Obama’s Secretary of Energy Steven Chu in 2010 after talks the previous December in the Danish capital ended without the hoped-for global deal on climate change. DOE administered the forum until 2016, when it was transferred to the Paris-based International Energy Agency to shield it from U.S. politics and make it more international.

The CEM’s goal was to invite large economies to share best practices and low-carbon energy technologies that would support a global emissions deal. The world reached its deal in Paris in 2015, only to see the United States bow out of it one year ago.

But while President Trump has called climate change a “hoax,” some of his staff, including Banks, continued to call for technological advances to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions.

Harrell of ClearPath, who split his week between the CEM and Malmö, Sweden, where the third meeting of the government research and development initiative Mission Innovation is being held, said the need for new, advanced technologies to address climate change was a recurrent theme.

“Something that I was surprised about from the international community this entire week was just the underscoring the point and the recognition that we’re behind, we don’t have all the technologies we need, and there’s a lot of skepticism that we’re going to meet our climate goals with the technologies that we have,” he said. Participants at the meetings praised the United States for expanding a carbon capture tax credit to make the technology more commercially viable, he said.

Josh Freed, who heads Third Way’s energy program, said there was a broad recognition that different countries would reach for different technologies within a carbon-constrained future and would need options.

“Some countries are going to focus more on the development and deployment of renewables, and that may be fine for those countries, and others need to and will be focusing more on a broader set of technologies including nuclear or carbon capture,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of time to wait and see if one set of technologies works, we really need to deploy everything everywhere it’s viable and there’s public support.”

But Jennifer Morgan, co-executive director of Greenpeace International, said the U.S. initiatives touting conventional energy “wasn’t really the focus” of the CEM.

“You have a government that doesn’t say it believes in climate change suggesting that the world should fight climate change using throwback old technologies that nobody likes,” she said.

Morgan said most of the meetings she attended at the CEM this week focused not on CCUS, which she called “a pipe dream,” or nuclear energy, but on initiatives to promote solar, wind, batteries and other technologies that are already expanding to cover the world’s energy needs at ever-lower costs.

“It’s just another example of this U.S. government being completely out of touch with where the rest of the world is going,” she said.

Canada and Japan joined the United States and six other nations in launching the nuclear initiative, which seeks to better integrate nuclear power into the grid “through innovative, advanced energy systems and applications, such as nuclear-renewable systems,” DOE said.

While nuclear advocates in the United States remain focused on avoiding retirements, Canada is eyeing major investments in the coming years, including in small modular nuclear reactors.

Saudi Arabia and Norway were the United States’ two main collaborators on the CCUS initiative. Norway is a world leader in CCUS, and its government is currently supporting three industrial pilot sites in the Oslo Fjord.

While Brouillette touted DOE’s support for CCUS and advanced nuclear research, Trump has proposed cutting them in each of his past two budgets. But Congress restored DOE funding for research and development in fiscal 2018 and seems poised to do the same in fiscal 2019.

The House energy appropriations bill, which has generally been more conservative than the Senate’s version, would boost overall nuclear research by nearly $130 million in fiscal 2019, among other provisions that are more generous than what the White House proposed. Congress’ funding levels for fiscal 2018 allowed the United States to claim to be on track to meet its Mission Innovation targets for the current fiscal year.

Launched at the Paris climate summit, the Mission Innovation partner countries pledged to double low-carbon research and development funding between 2015 and 2020. That would bring U.S. R&D support to $12.8 billion in advanced energy spending by 2020.