The United States has been a global economic leader since the end of World War II. Our skills, innovation and research and development capabilities have kept America at the forefront of new technologies for decades. This has allowed us to outpace our economic rivals and dominate valuable markets.
The renewable energy sector provides a good case in point. The development of geothermal, wind, solar and water energy sources have broadened the domestic energy supply and positioned the U.S. as a world leader in this arena. Why are we not putting that same focus on new clean coal technologies? It is one of our most important homegrown sources of energy, and, despite popular perception, still abundant.
Unfortunately, despite its low cost and capability to produce jobs, coal has been recast in the American mindset as old-fashioned and damaging to the environment. Those who speak favorably of clean coal technology are typically branded as behind the times or dismissive of long-term planetary health. Shaming has become a potent weapon for those who want to shut down intellectual discourse on the positive role of fossil fuels in America’s energy future.
Many may not realize that America is a leader in clean coal technology. We have developed carbon reduction and storage (CCS) practices that, once fully developed, could be exported around the world to reduce carbon emissions. This technology can capture up to 90% of the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels in electricity generation and industrial processes. CCS actually prevents carbon dioxide from entering the air.
Another state of the art coal technology is High Efficiency, Low Emission (HELE) power plants. These plants use “ultra-supercritical” technology to reduce carbon emissions produced by coal-fired power generation and produce more energy while using less coal. The U.S. has one HELE plant, based in Arkansas. It burns 180,000 fewer tons of coal and produces 320,000 fewer tons of carbon dioxide each year. This makes it 15% more efficient than any other plant in the country. Despite this success, the federal Environmental Protection Agency does not support HELE technology. The agency argues it will lead to greater coal emissions worldwide.
Ironically, both China and India have adopted HELE technology and have reduced drastically their carbon dioxide emissions. India has reduced its carbon emissions by 6 million tons and has commissioned 51 HELE plants in the past five years. When the first and only supercritical technology plant was built in the U.S. in 2012, China already had 46 in operation. Clearly, America is lagging behind in the arena of energy innovation.
Donald Trump has touted clean coal as the solution to long-term energy policy. With his first 100 days now in motion, the president has an important opportunity to enact policies in support of clean coal technology and the reduction of global carbon dioxide emissions. After nearly a decade of overregulation and punitive policy-making, Americans can finally bring fossil fuels back into the national dialogue and strive to make this nation number one in clean coal technology.
Brett Healy is the president of the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy
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- On January 25, 2017