President Barack Obama admitted in an interview with The New Yorker that his plan to lower U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by banning new coal plants would do little to curb global warming since developing countries like China and India will still use coal power.
The Obama administration published its proposed carbon dioxide emissions limits for new coal plants which would effectively ban coal power. That is, unless they use commercially unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies. Tighter emission controls for coal plants are part of Obama’s plan to fight global warming.
Critics of the administration argue that banning coal plants won’t curb global warming because developing countries continue to build coal plants, frustrating U.S. efforts to lower global carbon emissions. Obama conceded that fact, but argued that limiting emissions here will only help the U.S. because other countries will come to us for the technology once we’ve developed it.
“And so if we can figure out a carbon-capture mechanism that is sufficiently advanced and works, then we are helping ourselves, because the Chinese and the Indians are going to build some coal plants, and even if we don’t build another coal plant in this country, there are going to be a lot of coal plants around the world that are built,” Obama told the New Yorker.
“And we have a huge investment in trying to figure out how we can help them do it more cleanly,” he added.
Obama hopes that by requiring new U.S. coal plants to use CCS technologies, the country could become a world leader and export the technology abroad when other nations can afford it. If the U.S. doesn’t lead, Obama argues, other countries will not follow.
“And it’s not sufficient for us to just tell them to stop,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to give them some help. We’re going to have to take some of our research and development on things like clean-coal technology and be able to export it to them or license it to them… There’s going to be a process where we help them leapfrog some of the development stages that we went through.”
“This is why I’m putting a big priority on our carbon action plan here. It’s not because I’m ignorant of the fact that these emerging countries are going to be a bigger problem than us,” Obama added. “It’s because it’s very hard for me to get in that conversation if we’re making no effort. And it’s not an answer for us to say, ‘Well, since the Chinese and the Indians are the bigger problem, we might as well not even bother.’”
Indeed, countries like China and India are set to ramp up their coal use dramatically. The World Resource Institute reports that 76 percent of the proposed coal-fired capacity is in India and China — nearly 1,200 coal plants have been proposed globally, totaling more than 1.4 million megawatts of power.
The Chinese greenlit 100 million metric tons of new coal production capacity last year as part of the government’s plan to bring 860 million metric tons of coal production online by 2015.
The U.S. coal industry, however, says CCS is not yet proven technology as there are no commercial-scale coal plants in the country that uses the technology. In fact, when the Environmental Protection Agency wrote its rule limiting coal plant emissions it only cited CCS projects that were government funded and not in operation.
“[I]t is disingenuous to state that the technology is ‘ready,’” said Charles McConnell, former assistant secretary of energy in Obama. “Studies have verified that implementation of [CSS] technology is necessary to comply with EPA’s proposed [EPA carbon-emissions limits] regulation and meet the [greenhouse gas] targets necessary for limiting CO2 emissions to our atmosphere.”
“However, commercial [CSS] technology currently is not available to meet EPA’s proposed rule. The cost of current CO2 capture technology is much too high to be commercially viable,” said McConnell, who now serves as the executive director of the Energy & Environment Initiative at Rice University.
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