The CEO of Cloud Peak Energy, one of the largest U.S.-based coal companies, is urging President Donald Trump to break his campaign pledge to withdraw from the Paris agreement on global warming.
“Without U.S. leadership, the failed international policies that have characterized the past twenty-five years will continue to predominate,” Cloud Peak’s Colin Marshall wrote in a letter to Trump sent Thursday.
Cloud Peak is the first major U.S. coal company to come out in favor of staying in the Paris agreement signed onto by the Obama administration last year, committing the U.S. to cut greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025.
But news reports suggest at least two other coal majors — Peabody Energy and Arch Coal — have signaled to the White House they won’t publicly oppose staying party to the Paris agreement.
That is, if the U.S. and other countries are willing to cough up subsidies for clean coal technology to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Conservatives opposed to the Paris agreement aren’t happy with Cloud Peak’s letter to Trump. They say it’s a futile strategy that relies on government largesse.
“The reasons offered by Cloud Peak for staying in the Paris Climate Treaty are so stupid that I first thought the letter must be a parody from the Onion,” Myron Ebell of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute and former Trump transition team leader, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Cloud Peak and other coal majors argue recent executive orders effectively nullified President Barack Obama’s emissions reduction pledge to the United Nations — a good thing for them. But walking away will only spawn another Paris-like agreement in future administrations that may be hostile to coal.
“Walking away from the table at Paris is telling other countries to keep working on a failed paradigm,” Richard Reavey, Cloud Peak’s vice president for public affairs, told TheDCNF.
Cloud Peak urges Trump to push amendments to the Clean Air Act to set CO2 emissions reduction based on commercially viable technologies. The company also asks for government support in developing carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology.
“While amending the US pledge on CO2 emissions to undo the economic harm it would have imposed, remain in the Paris Agreement and use US influence to ensure that fossil energy remains a driver of global prosperity for the foreseeable future while addressing climate concerns,” Marshall wrote in his letter to Trump.
Coal companies are latching on to a plan laid out by North Dakota Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, Trump’s former energy adviser, to stay in the Paris agreement, but with lower emissions goals and subsidies for clean coal.
Peabody Energy spokeswoman Beth Sutton did not say whether the company supported the Paris agreement, but did say they support, among other things, “taking a technology approach toward reducing emissions, encouraging high-efficiency low-emissions coal-fueled plants today and carbon capture technologies over time.”
Arch Coal did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment, though the company has in the past expressed support for clean coal subsidies to cut carbon dioxide emissions.
“Paris is dead,” Reavey said, conceding that supporting Paris won’t stop environmentalists from trying to ban coal use.
“Decarbonization is not the end of coal,” Rainey said, suggesting, for example, the increased use of electric vehicles will increase energy demand. Coal with CCS could be a cheap way to meet that demand.
It’s a risky strategy.
They may get more subsidies, but lawmakers have already signaled they don’t intend to make big changes to the Clean Air Act and environmentalists aren’t likely to stop using it to shut down coal plants.
The Obama administration handed out hundreds of millions of dollars for CCS projects that largely ran behind schedule and incurred huge cost overruns. So far, only one CCS plant in Texas, Petra Nova, is online after the Department of Energy paid for 19 percent of the $1 billion project’s budget.
Ebell pointed to the failure of CCS technology to save the coal industry from a wave of bankruptcies — Peabody Energy and Arch Coal both emerged from bankruptcy in the last six months.
Environmentalists were skeptical CCS technology will take off in time to keep coal from being phased out by countries looking to tackle global warming. Even if CCS was commercially deployed, Ebell says most activists would still target coal.
“Second, carbon capture and storage technology uses a significant percentage of the energy produced by a coal-fired power plant and thereby makes the price of the electricity produced uncompetitive with other sources,” Ebell said.
“The letter then goes on to specify a long list of subsidies that they want,” Ebell said. “Apparently, providing affordable power to consumers is not part of Cloud Peak’s agenda. They just want to be part of the club receiving government handouts.”
The White House is split on whether or not to stay party to the Paris agreement. News reports suggest Ivanka Trump, her husband Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson lead the “stay” camp, while chief strategist Steve Bannon favors leaving the agreement.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt called Paris a “bad deal” and most Republicans in Congress oppose staying party to it.
Trump promised to withdraw from the Paris agreement on the campaign trail, along with rolling back Obama-era global warming policies that hampered energy production.
Ebell and other conservatives believe Trump should keep that promise by sending it to be voted down in the Senate.
“The idiotic reasons being advanced by Cloud Peak to stay in the Paris Climate Treaty provide further proof, if any were needed, for why President Trump should keep his campaign promise to withdraw from the Paris Climate Treaty,” Ebell said.
“In our view, the President should do so by sending the treaty to the Senate for its advice and consent,” Ebell said.
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