President Trump often says he wants to bolster “clean coal.” So far, he has been more bluster than action. Often the president doesn’t even seem to understand what the term means.
Yet in a few short days, Trump has taken concrete steps toward bringing carbon-capture-and-storage technology, often called “clean coal,” into mainstream use. The White House managed to do more work on carbon capture in one week than it fit into all of 2017.
Carbon capture has caught the attention of lawmakers because it offers both parties — and the president — a way to achieve their political goals without compromising on basic beliefs. Some Democrats concerned about climate change push the technology as a way of reducing the release of greenhouse gases without imperiling jobs, even if some environmentalists worry about prolonging the use of fossil fuels. Led by Trump, the GOP has championed a new emphasis on fossil-fuel extraction, most prominently coal -- and technologies like carbon capture allow such production to be done in a more environmentally friendly way. To boot, Republicans like how carbon dioxide can be pumped underground to unlock even more petroleum in a process called enhanced oil recovery.
It would seem to be a win-win for both parties and Trump's budget reflects that logic/.
Last Friday, Trump signed a spending deal that included a new tax credit for projects attempting carbon capture — a process by which carbon dioxide is caught and stored underground instead of being released into the atmosphere and contributing to climate change.
Then on Monday, the White House released a budget proposal that restored funding to the Energy Department’s “clean coal” efforts. The Trump administration called for $502 million in funding for Fossil Energy Research and Development program, according to a summary released by the department.
That’s still a 20 percent cut from 2017 funding levels. Yet one year ago, the Trump administration was calling for the office’s budget to be slashed by a whopping 55 percent.
Dan Reicher, former chief of staff at the Energy Department, said the administration’s spending on carbon capture and storage would reinforce the new carbon-capture incentives.
It seems “the administration now realizes carbon capture and storage is a viable technology,” Reicher said.
Carbon-capture advocates hope the one-two punch of a tax break and a research bump puts the technology on the same path wind and solar energy started years ago.
"Combining DOE research that improves energy technologies with an incentive to deploy those technologies is a proven winning combination demonstrated by wind and solar power," said Matt Lucas, an associate director at the Center for Carbon Removal.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry said as much in his briefing to reporters on the budget.
“I think everybody who is in touch with reality will tell you that fossil fuels are going to continue to play a role in the future,” Perry said. “Our goal is to produce it more cleanly.” Perry noted that last year his department signed a deal with Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry to collaborate on carbon capture.
It should, of course, be noted the White House’s budget proposal is essentially a wish list of what the Trump administration wants the federal government to look like. Congress needs to consent to any changes.
Much of the rest of the proposed budget for the Energy Department mirrors what the Trump administration asked for last year.
The administration wants a 17.5 percent increase for the department’s National Nuclear Security Administration, which maintains the nation’s nuclear weaponry. It wants to cut funding to the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) by two-thirds from 2017 levels. It wants to eliminate entirely the department’s tech incubator, the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).
And just like last year, many of Trump’s wishes for Energy are unlikely to come true. Both then and now, programs such as EERE and ARPA-E are just too popular among Democrats and enough Republicans in Congress to be maimed or killed.
But members of both parties are willing to support carbon-capture efforts, as demonstrated by the recent congressional spending deal.
So, on this one issue that Trump may get what he wants from lawmakers and energy policy.
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Here are some other highlights from Trump’s budget:
- Cutting $2.5 billion from the Environmental Protection Agency, a 23 percent decrease, The Post’s Brady Dennis reports.
- Slashing several dozen EPA programs altogether, including "funding for state radon-detection initiatives; assistance to fund water system improvements along the U.S.-Mexico border; and partnerships to monitor and restore water quality in the Gulf of Mexico, Puget Sound and other large bodies of water."
- Cutting by 90 percent restoration programs for other bodies of water — namely, the Chesapeake Bay and Great Lakes (even though those programs would be retained). "A 90 percent cut isn’t substantially different for zeroing it out like they did last time," said Betsy Nicholas, executive director of Waterkeepers Chesapeake. "If it were a priority, they would have fully funded it."
- Reorganizing Interior. The proposal "includes $17.5 million devoted to the ambitious reorganization effort" of Ryan Zinke's agency, E&E News reports.
- Cutting the National Weather Service by about 8 percent, a decrease for fiscal 2019 totaling just over $75 million. The proposal also calls or cutting 355 jobs at the agency, including 248 forecasting positions, per The Post's Jason Samenow.
— Among the things the Trump administration wants to privatize: Trump’s infrastructure plan (also released Monday) includes several federal assets the administration is looking to sell off, including ”[p]ower transmission assets from the Tennessee Valley Authority; the Southwestern Power Administration, which sells power in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas; the Western Area Power Administration; and the Bonneville Power Administration, covering the Pacific Northwest … the Washington Aqueduct, which supplies drinking water in the District and Northern Virginia, also is on the list,” The Post's Michael Laris reports.
— We knew this was coming, but now it's official: "The Trump administration on Monday moved to repeal one of the last unchallenged climate-change regulations rushed into place in the waning days of the Obama presidency — a rule restricting the release of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere," the New York Times reports.
Congress tried once to repeal the rule, only to fail in an unexpected 51-to-49 vote. And Interior has already tried suspending the rule twice, only to be tied up in court challenges. This latest move would aims to get rid of the Bureau of Land Management rule permanently.
— Climate change, snubbed: Any mention of climate change is absent from the strategic plan the EPA released Monday, E&E News reports. “In place of program categories such as ‘clean air and global climate change,’ for example, the proposed budget sets aside hundreds of millions of dollars for items including the ‘rule of law and process’ and ‘core mission.' "
— Blocked casinos, probed: Connecticut lawmakers want Interior's inspector general to investigate why Native American tribes have been blocked from opening a new casino in the state, Politico reports. The department failed to sign off on the casino before a federal deadline, a move that came after lobbying from competitor MGM Resorts International. And the state’s lawmakers, Democratic Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Reps. John Larson and Joe Courtney, say they were shut out of the process.
— Coal boss picks up campaign bill: Former coal executive Don Blankenship, who is running for the Senate as a Republican in West Virginia, lent his campaign $400,000 in late November when he first launched his campaign, per E&E News. Blankenship, who has been convicted of conspiring to violate mine safety and health standards, has told the publication he will spend “whatever it takes” to win the bid.
— Puerto Rico plant explosion: Power was restored to most customers in the capital city of San Juan in Puerto Rico on Monday after a power station explosion caused a blackout over the weekend. “But the outage again highlighted the strains that are being placed on the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, an indebted public agency that has been struggling to turn on the lights — and keep them on — since the September catastrophe,” The Post’s Arelis R. Hernández writes.
— Covering climate change: A new study from the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America found coverage of climate change spiked on major broadcast networks last year. In 2017, there was a combined 260 minutes of climate coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC’s nightly news. The study also looked at the networks' Sunday programs and at Fox News Sunday, which airs on Fox's broadcast affiliates.
That’s a marked increase from the combined 50 minutes of climate coverage in 2016 and 96 minutes in 2015. The report also noted 79 percent of the 2017 coverage featured actions or statements from the Trump administration, mostly from President Trump himself.
— Climate change will change your breakfast, too: A study published in the journal Ecology last month found environmental conditions had stunted the growth of sugar maples, which would mean less maple syrup. "The biggest trees will still be there, but won't be growing as much and the little saplings won't survive, [so] once the older trees start dying, there will be no new trees to replace them," lead researcher Inés Ibáñez, ecology professor at the University of Michigan, told NPR.
… and your cooking oil: “Why canola (oilseed rape) seedpods disintegrate rapidly in prolonged heat blasts has been something of a mystery, but a new study suggests rising temperatures trigger a genetic cascade in the plant that leads to premature fruit development,” NPR reports.
— There’s a start-up for that: If current trends continue, the cost of the changing climate could threaten businesses and government organizations. But a new start-up could help businesses make planning decisions as sea levels rise and storms intensify, The Post’s Jason Samenow reports. The company, Jupiter, “has developed tools to help customers plan for hazards two hours to 50 years into the future all the way down to the street or even building level,” Samenow writes.
— Flood risk, rising: The sea level is rising so fast that some communities by the coast are at risk of seeing a 4-inch increase per decade by the year 2100. A new study confirms the modeled trends scientists have been warning about for years. The findings, reports InsideClimate News, “reinforce the outlook that average global sea level is likely to go up at least 2 feet by the end of this century compared to 2005 levels.”
— Efforts to cut methane emissions faltering: A new article from Johns Hopkins and Duke scholars found a 2016 agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada to cut methane emissions is not yet succeeding. “The researchers conclude that even with emissions rising and the lack of progress among North America's largest emitters, the U.S. can make sizable progress toward the 2025 goal,” the Washington Examiner reports. “But it can only happen if the federal government is consistent in its emissions counting, while seeking science-based ways to control methane leaks from oil and natural gas wells.”
— Leaking LNG tanks, shuttered: The U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration has ordered Houston-based Cheniere Energy to shut down two of its liquefied natural gas storage tanks in Louisiana following a leak last month, the Houston Chronicle reports. Regulators made the call after it was discovered natural gas had leaked from the tanks and caused the outer wall of one tank to crack, per the report. A Cheniere spokesman noted there was “no immediate danger to our community, workforce, or our facility from this incident, nor is there any impact on LNG production,” per Reuters.
- The Atlantic Council will host a discussion on Iraq’s energy potential.
- The Renewable Fuels Association’s 23rd annual National Ethanol Conference continues in San Antonio.
- The National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners holds its annual Winter Policy Summit.
- The Brookings Institution holds a webinar on “Assessing and managing the risks posed by climate change to state and local governments.”
- WIRES and the Environmental and Energy Study Institute host a briefing on benefits of investment in electric transmission.
- The University of Maryland at College Park hosts a discussion on climate change featuring Harvard University Professor John Holdren and the University of Maryland Global Sustainability Initiative.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans holds an oversight hearing on “The State of the Nation’s Water and Power Infrastructure” on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks holds a legislative hearing on various bills on Wednesday.
- David Gardiner and Associates holds a webinar on "The Growing Demand for Renewable Energy Among Major U.S. and Global Manufacturers” on Wednesday.
- The Business Council for Sustainable Energy and Bloomberg New Energy Finance will release the 2018 Sustainable Energy in America Factbook on Thursday.
— Bear-cam: The Post's Karin Brulliard writes how and why researchers in a recent study placed cameras on polar bears.