Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz discusses Obama's plan with Pittsburgh officials


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Ernest Moniz, the Department of Energy's new secretary, met privately with a group of Pittsburgh business and government leaders Monday and stressed that coal and natural gas would not be left out of President Barack Obama's energy plan.

In the room, executives from U.S. Steel, Alcoa, Phipps Conservatory, the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University and Consol Energy shared their concerns and suggestions for energy development.

Steven Winberg, Consol's vice president for research and development, said after the meeting he doesn't think the administration is putting enough money into coal and gas and that investment should be proportional to the role fossil fuels play in supplying the country's electricity.

Mr. Winberg once chaired the board of directors of the FutureGen Alliance, a multibillion dollar government-supported project to build a power plant that captures carbon dioxide and pipes that into underground storage. The effort has been around for years and has changed and stalled several times. Consol pulled out of the project earlier this year.

The federal government's efforts to push carbon capture and sequestration into the market place has at times faltered or been abandoned by industry partners who saw no regulatory pressure to control emissions and decided not to spend substantial capital doing so voluntarily.

"For many years there was a lot of talk," Mr. Moniz said. "Now we walk the talk."

He noted that $6 billion has been spent on clean coal technology research since Mr. Obama took office and that, in a recent announcement, the administration made $8 billion more available for energy innovation.

U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, asked Mr. Moniz to take into consideration the economic impact of regulations that attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Protection Agency, which writes the rules, doesn't do so, Mr. Murphy charged.

The Department of Energy is aiming at about a 10-year time frame for commercializing carbon capture and sequestration, but the EPA is poised to issue rules pushing for carbon dioxide limitations possibly in the next year. Critics have questioned if the cart isn't being put before the horse.

"I am not the EPA," Mr. Moniz said, but the environmental agency takes into account what technology is available to comply.

"Our job at DOE is to go as fast as we can to make sure the marketplace knows what the options are," he said. "I've always said, the point of clean energy technology innovation is cost reduction."

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Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455.


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