The Trump administration wants to revitalize the coal industry, but they will not do so by imposing regulation on the natural gas industry, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry told reporters July 18 at a joint press conference with International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol.
“Would the Department of Energy (DOE) be a participant in putting regulations into place to protect a particular energy sector?,” Perry said. “The answer is no.”
Though he firmly stated that DOE will not increase regulation on energy sources that compete with coal, he was unclear about how the administration intends to make coal competitive again.
He seemed to suggest that exports, either of coal or technology, would play a large role in a revitalized coal industry. Noting that coal still accounts for roughly 40% of worldwide energy generation, Perry stated: “It’s not like coal has been pushed out of the marketplace, I mean you are going to see coal used in the world. Our goal is for us to use the cleanest technology that we can and generally speaking, that technology is going to come from the U.S.”
Investments in Technology Will Continue
Perry also stated that the government intends to continue to invest in technology in an attempt to solve the problem of the dying coal industry. “I don’t think it’s necessarily government’s role to be picking winners and losers,” he said. “Are we going to spend dollars on technologies to see if they work, to be gap funders, if you will, in places? I don’t have a problem with that.”
Interestingly, the administration’s fiscal year 2018 (FY18) budget proposal requested only $280 million, for fossil energy research and development, a decrease of 44% from the fiscal year 2017 omnibus funding level.
As congressional appropriators work through the budget process, however, it seems unlikely that cut will take effect. The House FY18 Energy and Water Appropriations Bill, which funds DOE, was reported out of committee on July 12 and would fund the fossil energy program at $635 million, a decrease of $33 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $355 million above the budget request.
Addressing Loss of Nuclear Should be Priority, Birol Says
While Perry ruminated on the future of coal in the U.S., Birol was more concerned with the future of the nation’s energy fleet, noting that a loss of zero-emission baseload generation would have a negative effect on the nation’s emissions track record.
“Today about 20% of the electricity in the United States comes from nuclear generation, and the challenge in my view in front of the U.S. government is that a significant amount of them, about 50 GW of nuclear power plants, in the next 10 years will come to their time of life extension or not,” he said. “In the absence of extension of nuclear power plants’ lifetime, we may well see this encouraging CO2 emissions transformation [in] the United States may take a different shape.”
Birol had noted that U.S. emissions have declined more than those of any other nation. “The large decline mainly is the result of shale gas, renewables, the [integrated gasification combined cycle] plants, the nuclear power, they all played a critical role here, and as a result of that, the United States brought emissions down by more than 300 million tons,” he said.
—Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.