It’s turning into a no good, very bad week for the “clean coal” technology that Energy Secretary Rick Perry has made a point of emphasis during the White House's “Energy Week.”
One of the country’s most highly touted "clean coal" projects announced Wednesday that it will no longer burn coal. After years of cost overruns and delays, Southern Co. pulled the plug on a once-promising carbon capture and coal gasification project at a power plant in Mississippi's Kemper County. The project was meant to showcase carbon capture and storage, a process by which carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are collected and stored, usually underground, instead of being sent into the atmosphere.
The company decided it could not surmount the technical challenge of making equipment designed to cool synthetic gas before carbon dioxide is stripped out work. The Post’s Steven Mufson explains more on what happened:
The plant was once held up as an example of promising technologies that could help fight climate change.
In 2014, then-Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz flew to see the plant and declared, “I consider seeing this plant a look at the future.” Instead, Kemper has imposed financial burdens on tax payers and local households.
Thanks to legislation passed by the Mississippi legislature, Southern has been able to pass along about $800 million of those costs to ratepayers, the company said.
Perry sung a decidedly different tune on carbon capture and storage during Tuesday's White House press briefing, praising the progress being made on the technology. Instead of highlighting the Kemper plant, Perry praised a much less problem-plagued showcase in his home state that he visited in April.
“We've already seen the fruits of innovative, clean technology, like CCUS -- carbon capture, utilization and sequestration,” Perry said Tuesday. “The Petra Nova plant, just on the outskirts of Houston, Texas, uses a process to remove 90 percent of the carbon dioxide after coal is burned to generate energy in a clean way.”
At first glance, the comments may be a bit baffling, if you’ve followed Perry up to this point. Perry said “no” when asked on CNBC last week if the compound captured in CCS -- carbon dioxide -- was “the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate.”
The comment set off a new firestorm of criticism as it appears Perry is increasingly bending into the mold of White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt in their adamancy with which they have dismissed climate-change science.
So it raises the question: Why should the Energy Department highlight the technology when its secretary isn’t convinced carbon dioxide is that primary control knob in warming the atmosphere? (Indeed, one of NASA’s top climate scientists described it as just that in a 2010 paper.)
One reason is that captured carbon dioxide has an industrial use. It can be pumped back underground in order to not just store it but to boost the recovery of oil from otherwise difficult-to-reach pockets. With most of the easy-to-get oil, lifted to the surface by its own internal pressure or by water pumped underground, already been recovered, oil companies will have to increasingly rely on so-called enhanced oil recovery in order to keep their reserves stable.
But Perry faces an even bigger incongruity between his rhetoric and actions on carbon capture and storage. The Energy Department budget the Trump administration proposed and Perry defended in Congress would cut funding from the Office of Fossil Energy, the office spearheading CCS research, from $631 million in 2017 to $280 million in 2018 -- a 56 percent cut.
Why praise handiwork of researchers and businesses trying to make carbon capture and storage happen while simultaneously threatening to chop off the head of the office pushing that technology?
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-- As President Trump and members of his administration tout American “energy dominance” during this themed “Energy Week,” analysts have pointed out that some of the White House’s claims don’t add up, write The Post's Steven Mufson and Chris Mooney. Here are a just a few of the disputed claims from Trump’s “energy week”:
Claim 1: The White House said the United States has 20 percent more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia.
Fact: The Energy Information Administration reports that the United States had 32.3 billion barrels as of the end of last year, Mufson and Mooney write, just a small fraction of Saudi Arabia’s 268 billion barrels.
A senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said the White House is “building a narrative on false premises. I’m disappointed that messaging has overtaken substance here.”
Claim 2: Perry, EPA head Scott Pruitt and Interior Secretary Zinke wrote an op-ed asserting that energy dominance is “about becoming an energy exporter.”
Fact: That could be a ways away. Mufson and Mooney write: “The U.S. Energy Information Administration forecast that the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2026 — although it could be earlier if oil prices rise, and later if oil prices fall.”
Claim 3: The White House said the Keystone XL pipeline would “support” more than 42,000 jobs.
Fact: The State Department reports only 4,000 construction jobs would be created on a temporary basis. Fewer than 100 jobs would be created permanently.
-- Yucca moves forward. Despite some waffling from the Trump administration, the House of Representatives is forging ahead with a bill to finally open Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 49-4 to send a bill reviving the long-dormant nuclear waste site to the full House.
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) issued a blistering statement following the vote. "It is unjust and unfair to force Nevadans to live next to a nuclear waste dump that could harm both their health and livelihood" she said. "This bill ignores the detrimental impacts to Nevada’s communities and economy if Yucca Mountain moves forward." Her Republican counterpart representing Nevada in the Senate, Dean Heller, opposes the project as well.
After emphasizing the necessity of finishing the Yucca Mountain project in Senate testimony last week, Perry backed down slightly in a White House news conference on Tuesday. "We’ve made no decisions at DOE," Perry said when asked about Yucca.
As one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2018, Heller may be able to get Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to stymie the Yucca proposal at the behest of the blue-state GOP senator."
-- "We love Indian Country, right?": Speaking before a meeting with local and tribal leaders as part of his series of “Energy Week” events, President Trump pledged that his administration would bring a “golden age of American energy dominance” to the nation.
“For too long the federal government has put up restrictions and regulations that put this energy wealth out of reach. It’s just totally out of reach,” he said. “It’s been really restricted, the development itself has been restricted and vast amounts of deposits of coal and other resources have, in a way, been taken out of your hands and we’re going to have that change. We’re going to put it back in your hands.”
Despite high-profile protests from Native Americans against the Dakota Access pipeline over the last year, the Trump administration has decided to make developing fossil fuel resources on reservations a cornerstone of his "energy dominance" agenda. Indeed, there are several tribes with leaders eager to mine coal or pump oil on their lands, including Crow Nation in Montana and Navajo Nation in New Mexico and Arizona, who sent representatives to the White House on Wednesday.
"I’m proud to have such a large gathering of tribal leaders here at the White House," Trump said. "I look forward to more government-to-government consultations with tribal leaders about the issues important to Indian Country. We love Indian Country, right?"
--The House Energy and Commerce committee approved a bill that would decrease the frequency of ozone regulation. The panel voted 29-24 to approve the bill, The Hill reported, which would require the EPA to update ozone limits every decade rather than the current timeline of every five years. The bill first passed in the House under the previous administration but did not make it to the Senate floor.
--Massive melting and general warming in Antarctica may allow for new habitats to emerge for wildlife, according to a report from Chelsea Harvey for The Post.
More ice-free space will allow previously isolated species to live alongside others, which could lead to a evolutionary battle as some organisms die off as others prove dominant, Harvey reports, citing a study in the journal Nature.
Harvey writes: “Secluded as they may be in some cases, these areas can be home to various species of vegetation, microbes, worms or insects and other small organisms, and may also serve as breeding grounds for animals like seals and seabirds. These species tend to be highly specialized for the extreme conditions in which they live, said Peter Convey, a terrestrial ecologist with the British Antarctic Survey, who was not involved with the new study. Some of them may be dormant throughout much of the year. Others may have developed specific adaptations that allow them to survive in conditions with high winds, little water or extreme low temperatures.”
The new study shows that there’s been a sparse amount of research until now on how climate change will affect Antarctica’s biodiversity. But researchers found that “the Antarctic Peninsula — one of the most rapidly warming areas on the continent, where large levels of glacial ice loss are already occurring — will likely suffer the most extreme changes through the rest of this century.”
-- Waiting to Larsen C what happens: A massive crack in Antarctica’s largest floating ice platform is “hours, days, or weeks” away from breaking away, according to researchers, creating an iceberg the size of Delaware.
The outer end “is moving at the highest speed ever recorded on this ice shelf,” said Adrian Luckman of Project MIDAS, the British Antarctic research project monitoring the shelf, USA Today reported.
“In another sign that the iceberg calving is imminent, the soon-to-be-iceberg part of Larsen C Ice Shelf has tripled in speed to more than 10 meters per day between June 24th and June 27th," Luckman said.
Luckman added that once it separates from the shelf, the iceberg will “fundamentally change the landscape of the Antarctic Peninsula.”
The Post's Chris Mooney wrote more about this last month.
--Talk about a deadline. A group of experts is warning that there is just three years left for the world to set carbon dioxide emissions on a downward path if we are to hold the rise in planetary temperatures between 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, The Post's Chris Mooney reports. In a new commentary published in the journal Nature, the authors, led by former United Nations climate chief Christiana Figures, urge that if carbon emissions can begin declining by 2020, there may be some hope to avoid the worst consequences of climate change that the Paris accord sought to address.
- Trump will deliver a speech on “energy dominance.”
- Trump, Perry, Zinke and Pruitt will be part of an “American Energy Dominance Panel,” for Energy Week.
- The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hold a hearing on conservation and forestry.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold an oversight hearing on oil and natural gas development on federal lands.
- The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies will hold a hearing on NASA’s budget request.
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will meet to vote on Annie Caputo and David Wright, two of Trump’s nominees for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and Susan Bodine, a nominee for assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Trump hosts tribal, local leaders for energy meeting:
Thousands of ‘sea pickles’ float off coast of California:
Republicans are pushing for a speedy new health care draft: