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A concrete factory. Photo: Carter Dayne/Getty Images

Although coal continues to be phased out of electricity generation, it remains integral to producing materials for infrastructure projects like buildings, bridges and roads.

The big picture: Coal is the most emissions-intensive fossil fuel, and steel and cement production account for more than 20% of the world's use. While options exist to reduce or eliminate coal from those processes, many of the necessary technologies require policies, incentives and new markets to bring down the costs of commercial deployment.

Details: In the last 15 years, global steel consumption has doubled and global cement consumption has nearly tripled. Industrial emissions — mainly from the production of steel, cement and chemicals — were the largest contributor to the growth in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions last year, according to a Rhodium Group analysis.

Where it stands: New efforts to reduce these uses of coal are moving forward.

  • In 2017, California passed groundbreaking "Buy Clean" legislation mandating government procurement favor low-carbon materials.
  • The European Union is funding a cement plant design that integrates carbon capture and storage.
  • The Swedish government is funding a new type of clean steel plant that will eliminate coal and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 98%.

What to watch: Infrastructure investment, particularly on the scale outlined in programs like the Green New Deal, presents an opportunity to pull clean steel and cement into the market.

  • Federal procurement standards could be put in place that reward recycling, efficient materials use and new green technologies like alternative concretes, coal-free steel and industrial carbon capture and storage.
  • Without such policies, big infrastructure projects could further drive up industrial emissions levels.

Justin Guay directs global climate strategy at the Sunrise Project and advises the ClimateWorks Foundation. Rebecca Dell is the climate and industry strategist at the Hewlett Foundation.

Go deeper

House Judiciary Committee advances reparations bill in historic vote

Sheila Jackson Lee. Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

The House Judiciary Committee voted 25 to 17 Wednesday to advance a bill that would create a commission to study reparations for Black Americans who are the descendants of slaves.

Why it matters: "No such bill has ever come this far during Congressional history of the United States," said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), who sponsored the bill, per the Washington Post.

Updated 4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Officer Kim Potter arrested, charged with manslaughter in Daunte Wright's death

Kim Potter's booking photos. Photo: Hennepin County Sheriff's Office

Kim Potter, the former police officer charged with second-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, was released on a $100,000 bond on Wednesday, Hennepin County jail records show.

Why it matters: Sunday's shooting of the 20-year-old Black man in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, just 10 miles from where George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer last year, has reinvigorated Black Lives Matter protests and led to three consecutive nights of unrest.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden names Erika Moritsugu as senior AAPI liaison

Erika Moritsugu. Photo courtesy: National Partnership for Women & Families

President Biden has named Erika Moritsugu as deputy assistant to the president and Asian American and Pacific Islander senior liaison, the White House announced Wednesday.

Driving the news: The decision follows weeks of pressure from AAPI leaders to include more Asian American representation at the Cabinet level and in senior administration roles.