Energy Secretary Defends Obama Administration’s Coal Policies
29 July 2013
By Timothy Puko
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review Business Writer Timothy Puko can be
reached at 412-320-7991
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — President Obama's top Energy official came to
the heart of coal country on Monday to defend the administration's
impact on the industry, emphasizing how it uses government
scientists in the region to buoy Big Coal.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz told more than 300 scientists at the
National Energy Technology Laboratory in Morgantown that they will
help overcome some of the world's biggest challenges. The country
needs to fight climate change, and the administration has put down
$14 billion for research on how to cut coal pollution so coal can
be environmentally friendly and competitive with other fuels.
“We have an all-of-the-above (energy) strategy. And it's real,”
Moniz said during a half-hour speech shown live to other federal
labs, including one in South Park. “These are decadal challenges,
but to answer them on that timescale, we have no time to waste.
And, again, what you all are doing here at NETL is really central
Republicans — especially in Pennsylvania and West Virginia — have
led an onslaught against Obama in the past month, claiming his
effort to ramp up pollution control is a “war on jobs.”
The coal industry is under threat because low natural gas and
electricity prices led several plants to close rather than spend
hundreds of millions of dollars to meet stiffer pollution-control
requirements. That includes FirstEnergy Corp., which announced
July 9 that plants in Washington and Greene counties will close in
October, its third round of power-plant closings in two years.
With 1,300 employees between them, the federal energy labs in
Morgantown and South Park long have been key in the quest to clean
up coal. Several scientists showed off cutting-edge work they're
doing to capture the carbon that burns off coal. Decades of
research have led to progress, but it's still 10 to 15 years
before it can work affordably for large power plants, George
Richards, one of the lead researchers in Morgantown told Moniz.
That's the problem with what the Obama administration is doing,
said George Ellis, a lobbyist who leads the Pennsylvania Coal
Alliance in Harrisburg. If the government ramps up regulations
before the industry has technology to fully and affordably adapt,
coal producers will lose out when electricity providers buy power
on long-term contracts. It threatens the industry, he said.
“If you listen to the president's climate change strategy
(announcement) back in June, he essentially vowed to transform
America's electric use away from coal,” Ellis said, saying
billions in research money may not be able to overcome that. “If
they're willing to defer decisions on those regs until there is
technology deployable to comply with that, then it has meaning.
(Otherwise) it's worthless to the coal industry.”
The industry had years to anticipate the need for better pollution
controls, experts have said. It's simply losing ground in the free
market, Moniz said. Appalachia's shale gas boom transformed the
energy industry, leading to low prices and persuading investors to
back — nearly exclusively — gas-fueled power plants and some wind
and solar plants.
“Natural gas is going to dominate that market, whether we like it
or not, just simply because there's now so much of it and it's so
cheap, even compared to coal,” said David E. Hess, who was
Department of Environmental Protection secretary under former Gov.
The government's role is to try to ensure the market has choices
while pushing the country to a low-carbon economy that doesn't
damage the earth's climate, Moniz said. Richards, the researcher,
said he's confident the lab can one day make carbon-capture
affordable enough to ensure coal stays in the mix.
“I wouldn't be coming to work in the morning if I didn't feel we
had a shot of making this go,” he said.
Timothy Puko is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at
412-320-7991 or firstname.lastname@example.org.