The Energy Department on Friday announced a new initiative that aims to boost the declining coal industry by creating new uses for the fossil fuel.
The department said in a statement that it will make about $122 million available to create “coal product innovation centers" to make new products from coal and develop new methods to extract critical minerals from it.
“It’s vitally important that America develop a viable domestic supply of rare earth elements, critical minerals, and other valuable products from our vast coal resources,” said Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette in a statement. “This effort moves us closer to that goal.”
“Sustaining domestic coal production creates new economic opportunity for coal state economies and benefits the nation,” he added.
Opponents of the idea argued, however, that the money could be better spent on something other than propping up a waning fossil fuel industry.
“This is something that has been tried and failed many times before to find alternative uses for coal and it ... usually never makes any sense economically,” said Mary Anne Hitt, the director of the Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign.
“We should instead be spending those resources on providing a fair and robust economic transition for coal communities as we continue moving away from coal,” Hitt said.
The Energy Department’s statement said it expects to fund multiple centers in several coal-producing regions.
“Once established, the public-private innovation centers will research and incubate innovative mining, beneficiation, processing, and purification technologies that are environmentally sustainable,” the statement said.
Burning coal emits more carbon dioxide than burning other fuels like natural gas or gasoline.
In addition, coal plants across the country have shuttered in recent years. A study published in January found that between 2005 and 2016, 334 coal-fired units were shut down.
In 2019, renewable energy consumption topped coal consumption for the first time in more than 130 years.
However, the Trump administration has continued to back the fossil fuel, previously announcing a $64 million research initiative.