Trump Ended War on Fossil Fuels, but Focus Needed on CCS [PODCAST]

The United States Energy Association (USEA) is an association of public and private energy-related organizations, corporations, and government agencies that helps increase understanding of the world’s energy issues. Barry Worthington has been the executive director of the USEA for more than 30 years. During that time, he has seen the association grow from a two-person, $200,000-a-year operation to an organization with 25 employees and a $10 million budget.

Worthington was a guest on The POWER Podcast. He spoke about some of his group’s accomplishments over the years and explained what the USEA is concentrating on currently. “I think right now that the most important technology that we need to focus on where we’re not adequately focusing is carbon capture utilization and storage,” he said.

Worthington believes people around the world are going to continue using fossil fuels for many, many years. Even if developed nations such as the U.S. and some European countries cut back on fossil fuels, places like China, India, Vietnam, Indonesia, and many others are going to continue to burn coal, Worthington said.

“I feel that we have an obligation to help them do that in a manner that’s using the best technology—low-emission, high-efficiency technologies. If we have any hope of meeting our climate change goals, we need to be deploying CCS [carbon capture and storage] much more rapidly than what we are now,” he said.

What’s holding CCS back, according to Worthington, is that the U.S. hasn’t established economic incentives to help support the technology. For perspective, he compared federal spending on renewables to that spent on CCS. “The ratio is 100 to 1,” Worthington said. “For every dollar the federal government spends on CCS, they spend $100 on renewable incentives. And the consequence or outcome of that is you’ve seen a dramatic, dramatic reduction in the cost of wind and the cost of solar, but you haven’t seen anywhere near the dramatic cost reduction in CCS. Yet, the potentials are there.”

But Worthington was optimistic about what the government has been doing. He suggested the most important message the Trump administration has delivered to the energy sector is that the war on fossil fuels is over.

“We went through eight years where fossil fuels were vilified as opposed to applauded. Fossil fuels have been the cornerstone of economic development all throughout the world ever since the industrial revolution. They continue to provide about 80% of primary energy supply on a global basis and we have unleashed—the administration has unleashed—the fossil fuel industry,” he said.

Worthington noted that the message is a marked change from the one sent by the Obama administration. “This is just a complete about-face, where you had individuals and departments within the federal government that literally—without exaggeration—literally wouldn’t use the word fossil fuels. It was like they were banned for eight years,” he said.

“I think that the Trump administration turning that around and all of the ramifications that fall out of that policy decision are very profound, and I would go so far as to say we’re just now beginning to understand what kind of geopolitical value this about-face can do for the country,” Worthington said.

During the interview, Worthington also touched on takeaways from the USEA’s inaugural Energy Efficiency and Supply Forum, the integration of renewables into the grid, the trajectory for electric vehicles, climate change, sustainability, the efficient use of fossil fuels, and more.

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Aaron Larson is POWER’s executive editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine).