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America can restore its energy jobs — and reduce emissions

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One of the things I learned early in life growing up on Cabin Creek in central West Virginia is that if you don’t take on a bully right from the start, his bullying will only get worse. Russian President Vladimir Putin has shown himself to be a bully on a global scale. President Biden’s ban on Russian energy imports into the United States is the right move, and I applaud him for joining with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and his bipartisan colleagues in the Senate to stop funding the Russian regime as they continue to attack innocent Ukrainians.

Banning Russian energy imports, however, will mean that the United States is now faced with a deficit of energy resources, because approximately 8 percent of our oil has been imported from Russia. The need to ramp up domestic energy production is clear. But that shouldn’t mean we have to throw away decades of progress in dramatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. In my view, this provides us with an opportunity to expand traditional jobs in the energy industry and take significant strides to meet the challenge of reducing carbon dioxide emissions while we do so.

The passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act last year included noteworthy funding to build out the infrastructure needed to deploy carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology on a commercial scale. CCS technology — that is, capturing carbon dioxide at the source, compressing it for transportation and then injecting it into a rock formation for permanent storage — can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and could be the key component of an enduring, reliable fossil fuel-based electricity grid. It is the principal means for reducing carbon emissions from coal-based generating plants, which currently account for roughly one-third of total U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Most importantly for United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) members, their families and their communities, CCS deployment on a wide scale would mean jobs for decades instead of just a few more years. It could return employment to coalfield communities that have been faced with dramatic job losses and economic ruin over the past decade. It would give communities the means to rebuild their infrastructure, their schools and health care systems. It would mean they could afford to rehire first-responders and make their communities safer.

This opportunity to increase domestic energy production should be joined by an even more aggressive build-out of CCS infrastructure and corresponding tax incentives for utilities that apply CCS technology to their power plants. And we must give those utilities a reasonable timeline to get that done.

We can fix our energy issues internally while still addressing climate change. Let’s lower greenhouse gas emissions while preserving traditional energy jobs by more rapidly deploying CCS technology. I call on Congress to take immediate steps, as it considers how to tackle our energy challenges, to incorporate a faster transition to CCS for coal-powered utilities. Developing CCS technologies in the United States, and demonstrating their technical and economic feasibility, will be essential to efforts to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations globally.

And while we are at it, let’s create incentives to bring back steel and other metal fabrication to the United States. Right now, we ship millions of tons of metallurgical coal overseas to produce the steel that ultimately gets shipped back to our shores. We should bring those jobs home by offering incentives to these industries to produce steel on American soil. 

We have a real chance to develop a more domestically sustainable economy in our nation by meeting everyone’s goals. 

Cecil E. Roberts is president of UMWA International. A sixth-generation coal miner, he has been president of the union since 1995.

Tags carbon capture and sequestration Climate change Coal mining Emissions reduction energy jobs Joe Biden Joe Manchin Vladimir Putin

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