Two years ago, Hillary Clinton pulled perhaps the greatest political blunder in modern history when she told the people of Logan, West Virginia: “We’re going to put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.”
Secretary Clinton forgot that she was not talking at a San Francisco Earth Day rally, but to working-classing people in a coal-mining town. See, this wasn’t a blunder. This wasn’t a slip of the tongue, like calling Africa a country instead of a continent. This was a vulgar sign that the Democratic Party was utterly out of touch with the people who used to be … the Democratic Party.
Left-wing media institutions defended Clinton (which is odd, since the media’s supposed to hold politicians accountable, right?) but Bernie Sanders still beat Clinton, 51% to 35%, in the West Virginia primary and Donald Trump obliterated her there 68% to 26% a few months later.
When excitable people decide something is the easy bad guy of their narrative, like coal, they become inured to any reasonable, moderate argument beyond their black-and-white worldview. (I think the term for this is “closed minded.”) But a few Democrats have learned the lesson of 2016, and have aimed to revitalize coal country, deploy new clean technologies, and work with the Trump Administration rather than just hold another protest because it’s Thursday.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced a bill last year to promote carbon capture and storage (CCS), a process whereby CO2 waste from fossil fuel power plants is collected and stored underground so it doesn’t pollute the atmosphere. CCS allows continued use of cheap, reliable, abundant coal while circumventing its negative environmental impact.
The brilliantly named Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage, and Reduced Emissions Act (or FUTURE Act) has 25% of the Senate behind it already and was included in the budget bill passed on Feb. 9. Heitkamp’s bill promises massive tax credits for CCS and could be the tipping point that turns this technology into reality.
Coal is not as renewable as, for example, the sun, but there’s still enormous amounts to be had. There are about 1.2 trillion short tons of coal in the world, according to estimates by the US Energy Information Administration, and 21% of those are in the United States, second only to China which has 23% of the coal.
CCS technology is still relatively new. While the US is already a major supplier, it could become the unrivaled leader. China, Europe, and Australia have their own CCS research facilities, but the 17 US laboratories are leading the charge. Promoting carbon capture is essential for US competitiveness both in this field and in the effective application of a plentiful, cheap resource. CCS could even be applied to the steel and cement industries.
The Democrats pushing for this deserve all the plaudits we can muster, because they’re flying in the face of years of environmentalist, anti-coal dogma.
In November, protesters disrupted delegates from the Trump Administration at a UN climate panel who wanted to talk about this and other clean ways to use coal and nuclear power. (These protesters have not learned the lessons of 2016.) But Heitkamp isn’t alone among liberals who have realized that coal isn’t Hitler: Norway, Canada, the International Energy Agency (IEA), and even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have all gone on record saying CCS can help achieve climate goals while meeting our energy needs.
A sensible balance in energy/environmental policy is an important part of foreign affairs. Western environmental NIMBY-ism often ignores the energy needs of developing countries or simply outsources the dirty parts of our energy production to parts of the world without any standards at all.
Despite the nattering criticism Republican presidents endure that they “damage our reputation in the world!” Trump’s push for a “clean coal alliance” is welcomed in other countries, like India. To help developing nations, the Trump Administration is pushing the World Bank and other institutions to reinstate funding for coal-based projects.
Home to about 18 percent of the human race, India meets 81 percent of its energy needs with coal. They need coal: most Indians can’t install wind farms off the coast of Long Island, drive electric cars, or afford the other luxurious trappings of modern environmentalism.
Wouldn’t it be great to give India and other developing nations a cleaner way to use coal?
Developing CCS technology will be a boon to American industry, developing nations, and of course local communities at home. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said it best: CCS tech will “provide a crucial lifeline to coal miners by providing a pathway to maintain coal as a part of our diverse energy mix, doing so in a cleaner way, and reinforcing bipartisan support for standing up for these workers and their communities.”
Seems like a better idea than putting them “out of business.”
Jared Whitely is a freelance writer.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.