Three of the country’s largest coal producers are urging President Donald Trump to champion clean coal subsidies to fight so-called global warming.
Executives with Arch Coal, Peabody Energy, and Cloud Peak Energy are lobbying to expand government subsidies for clean coal technology to reduce the environmental impact of global warming. Two of the companies – Peabody and Arch Coal – managed to file for bankruptcy last year to stave off complete financial collapse.
They are also reaching out to environmentalist groups such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Clean Air Task for help pressuring Republicans and other climate change skeptics on the issue.
“We need a low-carbon fossil solution,” Deck Slone, a senior executive at Arch Coal, told reporters. “We think there is a solution out there in the form of technology that is an answer to the climate challenge” and would be good for coal.
The carbon capture technology Slone’s company is pushing has been criticized as an inefficient and expensive method of capturing carbon dioxide emitted from coal-fired power plants.
Other beleaguered coal companies have joined Arch Coal’s mission despite the criticisms.
“We can’t turn back time,” Richard Reavey, vice president for public affairs at Cloud Peak Energy, told reporters, referring to concerns related to carbon dioxide and the climate. He also said the issue “has to be dealt with.”
Some environmentalist groups are skeptical.
“For 40 years, I’ve been told clean coal is right around the corner, just give us another few subsidies,” Dan Decker, the director of the Safe Climate Campaign, told reporters. “Carbon capture and sequestration may work someday in the distant future, but right now it barely works on a technical level. It’s way far away.”
Recent reports indicate the group’s skepticism is not without merit.
A report published in 2016 called “Coal Tax Subsidies: A Boon For Kemper” suggests that taxpayers will be on the hook for more than $4.5 billion if Congress decides to dump more cash on a clean coal plant in De Kalb, Miss.
The beleaguered project, otherwise known as Southern Company’s Kemper, is already billions of dollars underwater and years behind schedule.
Kemper was slated to cost $2.4 billion and come online in 2014, but that was nearly $5 billion ago – the coal plant’s price tag now stands at $6.9 billion. Now the plant is not expected to start pumping coal until early next year.
Congressional Democrats have already voiced support for clean coal technology.
Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced a bill in July to dramatically increase subsidies for coal plants using so-called clean coal sequestration (CCS).
The bill would “more than double the tax breaks, to $50 per metric ton of permanently stored CO2 and $35 per metric ton of carbon dioxide captured for use in enhanced oil recovery and other newly authorized activities,” Politico reported at the time.
Arch Coal and Peabody stands to gain financially if such technology is subsidies.
Peabody emerged from bankruptcy after courts approved the company’s structured Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
The Missouri-based company was forced to reduce its pre-filing debt levels by more than $5 billion and was forced to offer shareholders hundreds of millions of dollars in new stock. It reported a $2 billion in losses in 2015 and claimed to have only $900 million on hand after filing.
Arch Coal, also based in Missouri, filed for bankruptcy as well in January and coal companies like Alliance Coal announced mass layoffs. Both companies have taken near-fatal blows from Obama-era regulations.
Arch and Peabody executives have blamed the coal industry’s plight on former President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was designed to force coal-fired power plants to reduce carbon emissions by 2030 to 32 percent below 2005 levels.
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