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Funding Fossil Fuel Research

What angered many Americans about former President Barack Obama’s war on coal was that it was intended as a campaign of extermination. Obama and others who hate the very idea of coal knew, but didn’t care, about efforts to develop “clean coal” technology.

Perhaps that was because coal-mining areas of Illinois, his home state, voted against Obama during the 2008 presidential election. Or it may have been that he was pandering to the radical environmentalist wing of his party.

Whatever the reason, Obama, once elected, oversaw a dramatic decline in federal funding for research into how coal could be burned with lower emissions of pollutants, including carbon dioxide. During the last few years of his administration, the Department of Energy requested only about $500 million a year for all fossil fuel research. Clean coal technology got … zero.

President Donald Trump’s administration has been edging up on such spending. The Energy Department’s budget request for fiscal 2020 includes $562 million for the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development. Other coal research funding is included elsewhere in the budget.

Just this year, the Energy Department has announced multiple projects to fund fossil fuel technology — about $380 million in total. They range from initiatives on carbon capture at coal and natural gas power plants to research on retrofitting existing coal-fired power plants to meet stricter federal emissions standards.

During his election campaign, Trump pledged to roll back draconian Obama-era rules intended to shut down coal-fired power plants. You may recall that when the former president rolled out his war on coal, I warned that natural gas would be next on the radicals’ hit list. I hate to say I told you so, but…

Trump has been doing just that. His headline accomplishment was withdrawing the United States from the Paris climate accords — which pledge this country to make drastic cuts in carbon emissions while many of our economic competitors were allowed free rides.

But more critical is dialing back on U.S. rules — most of them executive-branch mandates on which Congress never voted — that were intended to kill the coal and coal-fired power industries.

This week, the Trump administration released its Affordable Clean Energy Rule. In essence, it scraps an Obama-era mandate that power plants reduce emissions drastically by 2030.

That may keep a few coal-fired power plants from closing. But, as coal industry executives and officials in coal states noted, it is too late for scores, perhaps hundreds, of coal-fired generating units.

Still, it is better than nothing.

But U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., put his finger on the next step that is vital if Americans are to continue enjoying the reliable, reasonably-priced power that comes from fossil fuel generating stations.

Manchin offered cautious praise for the new rule (no one really knows how it will affect coal and coal-fired generation). But he added, “we cannot be complacent in seeking climate solutions using technology that should be proven through aggressive (research and development).” That’s why he has introduced a bill, the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology Act. Yes, you sometimes have to jump through hoops to get a good acronym.

But Manchin’s EFFECT bill is more than just words. It proposes appropriation of $902 million for fiscal 2020 and $5.2 billion through 2024 for fossil fuel research and development.

Other members of Congress, including Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., also have ideas for improved research into how we can use coal and natural gas more cleanly.

Trump is slicing away at the Obama-era war on coal. But for fossil fuels to remain part of the all-of-the-above energy portfolio the nation needs, more research is imperative.

Congress ought to approve EFFECT — and more.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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