Energy & Environment

Energy secretary announces coal research initiative

Greg Nash

Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette on Friday announced a $64 million dollar initiative to fund research and development for coal, giving an assist to an industry that appears to be on the decline.

Brouillette announced the so-called Coal FIRST initiative at an Atlantic Council event, saying that it was “going to help us produce more coal-based power more efficiently and transform it into a near-zero emissions energy source.”

He particularly emphasized the idea of making coal plants smaller and more efficient, saying this would make it easier to make them cleaner. 

“Coal as a percentage of U.S. electricity generation is declining,” he added. “The efforts that we’re undertaking is not to subsidize the industry and preserve their status … as a larger electricity generator. It is simply to make the product cleaner and to look for alternative uses for this product.”

Brouillette’s announcement comes as coal-fired power generation becomes an increasingly smaller part of the U.S. energy sector. 

Figures announced last year from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show that renewable energy production surpassed coal-fired generation for the first time in the U.S.

A University of California, San Diego study published in the journal Nature last month showed that from 2005 to 2016, the period analyzed in the study, 334 coal-fired units were shut down

It also showed that reduced carbon emissions saved more than 26,000 lives in the U.S.

Mary Anne Hitt, the senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, called the decision “ridiculous and wasteful” in a statement. 

“The DOE putting $64 million to research new ways to burn coal is like the Pentagon spending $1 billion for new ways to fire a musket ball,” Hitt said.  

On Friday, Brouillette also commented on President Trump’s announcement that he no longer supports funding for a controversial nuclear waste repository in Nevada, saying that the administration will look for other solutions. 

“We’re going to be working with our interagency partners to look for innovative solutions that might involve interim storage, it might involve other types of storage,” he said. 

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