SYD PENG

The U.S. should champion clean coal

Instead, EPA regs stifle realistic climate-change policies

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The Obama administration’s climate policy is wrong. I propose a different approach.

Last month in Indonesia, Secretary of State John Kerry called on the developing world to reduce its use of fossil fuels. America, Mr. Kerry declared, can’t fight climate change alone.

But President Barack Obama is taking our country down that very road, one that Americans should have grave doubts about following.

The administration is committed to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions in a very short time, regardless of the cost to the nation’s economy and heedless of the fact that many developing countries place a great deal of importance on coal and look to the United States for leadership in developing cleaner coal-burning technologies.

Many countries understandably view coal, the world’s most abundant energy resource, as a building block essential to economic growth.

China is now using more coal than the rest of the world combined.

India has developed an ambitious plan to increase coal production and is building scores of new coal plants to drive economic growth and bring electricity to some 300 million people who live in poverty.

Indonesia, with huge coal reserves, is now the world’s largest coal exporter.

And Europe is burning more coal to hold down energy costs that have ballooned due to subsidized wind and solar power.

Clearly, much of the world will be relying on coal for electricity production well into the future. Where it is plentiful, coal is the fuel of choice.

Yes, coal combustion accounts for 40 percent of the world’s greenhouse-gas emissions. But we need to recognize that developing countries are likely to increase their output of greenhouse emissions more rapidly than the United States reduces its carbon footprint.

This means there is an urgent need to develop coal-burning technologies that curb emissions. Yet, despite Mr. Obama’s talk about including clean-coal technology in an all-of-the-above energy strategy, the administration has thrown coal into a ditch.

Over the last two years, the Environmental Protection Agency has issued one regulation after another aimed at ending the use of coal in the United States. Its latest rule covers greenhouse-gas emissions. It would ban the construction of new coal plants unless the plants use carbon capture-and-storage technology, a process that has yet to be demonstrated at commercial scale in this country.

The EPA, by law, is allowed to mandate only the use of commercially viable and available environmental control technology. Carbon capture and storage is neither of these. Congress should move immediately to block this unlawful regulatory overreach.

Instead of making it impossible to build a new coal plant, a better option would be to focus on ways to develop advanced coal-burning processes like fluidized bed combustion and coal gasification.

Currently, the Department of Energy spends about $650 million annually on fossil energy research — coal, oil and natural gas. But that’s less than half what the department spends on energy efficiency and renewable energy sources, illustrating its tendency to steer markets in the wrong direction, away from real-world solutions.

Those who question the value of a clean-coal approach ignore that ultra-supercritical pulverized coal technology increases power-plant efficiency by as much as 50 percent compared to conventional coal plants. These new plants can use just half the amount of fuel to produce the same amount of power, achieving a significant reduction in carbon emissions.

As the nation with the world’s largest coal resources, the United States should be the global leader in the development and demonstration of advanced coal technology. Instead of pretending that coal has no future, we should capitalize on our technological know-how and work with other countries to boost the efficiencies of coal combustion.

Simply put, we need a great deal more technical development to demonstrate the commercial opportunities of cleaner coal in this country and globally. Launching a rigorous and well-funded program on coal research now would be prudent. Failing to do so would be acquiescing to a climate strategy that has no teeth.

Syd S. Peng is Charles E. Lawall Chair in Mining Engineering emeritus at West Virginia University.


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