The Barack Obama administration waged war on the coal industry, but that’s all over now, recently confirmed Secretary of Energy Rick Perry told the National Coal Council (NCC) during its annual spring meeting.

The NCC is an advisory board to the secretary of energy tasked with providing expert advice on matters of the coal industry. The group held its annual spring meeting April 18–19 in Alexandria, Va.

“With the stroke of a pen this president began dismantling the last’s war on coal, but there’s a lot more work to do,” Perry said, referencing President Donald Trump’s recent executive orders.

Since taking office in January, Trump has signed numerous executive orders undoing various parts of Obama’s legacy. Two such orders will likely have significant impacts on the energy industry. The first orders that for every new regulation issued throughout the administration, two existing regulations will need to be rescinded. The second orders the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to review its carbon emissions standards for existing coal-fired power plants, the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan had a nice name, Perry said, but could have had disastrous impacts. “What it did had the potential to be devastating to a lot of people in this country,” he said. “It prioritized carbon reductions at the expense of the American worker, and Americans responded.”

The Clean Power Plan required that states develop action plans to meet federally set emissions reduction goals. In the long term, Obama’s EPA estimated that the regulation would reduce the nation’s power sector emissions 30% from 2005 levels.

While railing against the previous administration’s anti-coal actions, Perry did admit that regulation is not the only thing keeping coal down. “Just because we’re in the process of ending the war on coal doesn’t mean the coal industry isn’t without its challenges. There was a war being waged on coal, and while that was happening, technology was making pretty substantial advances all around,” Perry said.

As coal’s use has declined, natural gas use has increased significantly. With the advent of hydraulic fracking, prices for natural gas have plummeted, making it a far more economical fuel choice than coal in many parts of the nation. The Energy Information Administration announced the day before Perry’s talk that natural gas is expected to the largest source of U.S. energy this summer.

As the world advances, coal is going to have to advance to keep up, Perry suggested. “The world has changed, and coal has to change as well. As you know, [the Department of Energy (DOE)] is working to develop innovative and cost-effective technologies that not only can make coal cleaner and more efficient, but it can help support economic growth, energy security, and American leadership in global technology.”

Perry noted the Petra Nova carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) project in his home state of Texas. NRG Energy’s Petra Nova project, the world’s largest post-combustion CCUS project, started operation in January, on time and on budget.

Located at the W.A. Parish facility, the project is intended to capture approximately 1.6 million tons of CO2 annually from an approximately 240-MW slipstream of flue gas from Unit 8 of the coal-fired power plant. This equates to a 90 percent capture rate.

The captured CO2 is being transported roughly 80 miles via pipeline to the West Ranch oil field, which is now partly owned by NRG. In total, the CO2 is expected to enable the procurement of approximately 60 million barrels of oil via enhanced recovery.

“The Petra Nova project is showing that CCS can not only make coal plants cleaner but also can provide a commercially viable byproduct, in this case, CO2 going to enhanced oil recovery,” Perry said. “That is a great example of America’s approach to energy.”

Perry pledged not to play favorites while serving as energy secretary. “As secretary of energy I will not give favored research status to a few handpicked industries. We’ll go where the science leads,” Perry said.

He later added, “We will do research in areas where it’s most promising, we will let our sources compete on price, and we will live by a simple policy, and that is, we want energy that is made in America, for the good of America and American jobs.”


Abby L. Harvey is a POWER reporter.