Dec 17, 2018

Trump administration pushes clean coal, but wavers on investment

Antonio Guterres, Patricia Espinosa and Luis Alfonso de Alba at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 14. Photo: Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Trump administration again used the UN’s annual climate change conference as a platform for its controversial advocacy for clean fossil fuel and nuclear technology as climate change solutions. Speakers at the Trump administration's event in Katowice argued that future coal plants should be built with advanced clean coal technology from the U.S., which includes carbon capture and storage (CCS).

The big picture: The U.S. has spent $56 billion on fossil fuel research and development from 1948 to 2018, including early support for hydraulic fracturing. The development of affordable clean coal technology could theoretically become another fracking-style game-changer, growing economies while cutting greenhouse emissions and making the U.S. and its European allies less dependent on fossil fuel imports.

How it works: Power plants can use CCS technologies to selectively capture carbon dioxide before, during or after the combustion process. The captured carbon is then sold for commercial use or stored underground.

Why it matters: The latest IPCC report and U.S. National Climate Assessment both reveal a world struggling to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Chinese emissions are rising, and China, India and African nations have hundreds of new coal-fired plants planned and under construction.

  • Fracked natural gas and nuclear power are helping the U.S. reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions. Affordable, scalable clean coal technology could have similar benefits at home and abroad. If CCS can be made cost-effective, it would allow the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while accessing vast domestic coal reserves that could power the country for another 325 years at current demand, as well as to export the technology to nations planning to build new coal plants.

Yes, but: The Trump administration’s commitment to energy R&D has been shaky — Trump's last budget proposed deep cuts to the Department of Energy and scrapped a key advanced energy incubator, ARPA-E. Increased U.S. energy independence could also afford more latitude in foreign policy, but the administration nonetheless publicly aligned in Katowice with Saudi Arabia and Russia — both fossil fuel exporters on which the U.S. does not want itself or its European allies to be dependent — by blocking discussion of the IPCC report.

The bottom line: Advanced nuclear and clean coal technologies have the potential to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, but they are unlikely to deploy at a global scale without additional public and private research investment.

Sarah E. Hunt is the co-founder and CEO of Joseph Rainey Center for Public Policy.

Go deeper

America's rundown roads add to farmers' struggles

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

American farmers are struggling to safely use the roads that cut through their fields; decades of neglect and lack of funding have made the routes dangerous.

The big picture: President Trump has long promised to invest billions in rural infrastructure, and his latest proposal would allocate $1 trillion for such projects. Rural America, where many of Trump's supporters live, would see a large chunk of that money.

South Korea and Italy see spikes in coronavirus cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The novel coronavirus continues to spread to more nations, and the U.S. reports a doubling of its confirmed cases to 34 — while noting those are mostly due to repatriated citizens, emphasizing there's no "community spread" yet in the U.S. South Korea's confirmed cases jumped from 204 on Friday to 433 on Saturday, while Italy's case count rose from 3 to 62 as of Saturday.

The big picture: COVID-19 has now killed at least 2,362 people and infected more than 77,000 others, mostly in mainland China. New countries to announce infections recently include Israel, Lebanon and Iran.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 1 hour ago - Health

Centrist Democrats beseech 2020 candidates: "Stand up to Bernie" or Trump wins

Bernie Sanders rallies in Las Vegas, Nevada on Feb. 21. Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

Center-left think tank Third Way urgently called on the Democratic front-runners of the 2020 presidential election to challenge Sen. Bernie Sanders on the South Carolina debate stage on Feb. 25, in a memo provided to Axios' Mike Allen on Saturday.

What they're saying: "At the Las Vegas debate ... you declined to really challenge Senator Sanders. If you repeat this strategy at the South Carolina debate this week, you could hand the nomination to Sanders, likely dooming the Democratic Party — and the nation — to Trump and sweeping down-ballot Republican victories in November."