Finding Common Ground for Energy, Economy and Environment in 2017
Since my predecessor as ACC President, Matt Schicke, wrote to readers in the Issue 2, 2016 of American Coal, a lot has changed for the U.S. coal industry.
Among the biggest shifts, U.S. thermal and metallurgical coal pricing have improved from early 2016 levels, and the election of President Donald Trump, a surprise to many, offered some much needed hope. Trump himself has promised to reinvigorate the industry by rolling back regulations and allowing coal miners to get back to work.
With the Trump Administration and 115th Congress beginning to make its mark in Washington, the time is now for Americans to find common ground in achieving shared policy goals for low‐cost energy, a strong economy and a clean environment.
The world has doubled its energy use in the last 25 years. We depend on energy every day to improve our lives, through alarm clocks, phones, computers, dishwashers, laundry machines, air conditioners, and much more. All of these conveniences have become an everyday part of life and require energy to function.
Coal is an integral source for bringing these items to life and an essential part of a balanced energy portfolio that helps maintain lower electricity costs for family budgets. In order to ensure electricity remains reliable an affordable for all Americans, a true “all of the above” energy strategy is needed to guide our country into the future. This strategy would recognize the benefits and limitations of each energy source, including coal, which has a track record of reliability and scalability, affordability and security of supply.
The industry, in particular, can capitalize on the change in political climate and use this opportunity to provide a fresh perspective on why coal should be a leading component of America’s energy mix moving forward. This can be accomplished by accelerating the use of clean coal technologies including high‐efficiency low emissions (HELE) coal generation and supporting development of next generation carbon capture use and storage (CCUS) technologies.
HELE generation can result in reducing the emissions of SO2, NOx, particulate matter, mercury and others, resulting in a smaller environmental footprint, and CCUS technology, once operational, can help meet long‐term global climate goals. HELE generation and CCUS technology must be utilized and advanced, and national and international sources should allow these technologies to receive public funding for further development.
In addition to clean coal technologies, the rolling back of regulations designed to limit the role fossil fuels play in the U.S.’s energy mix would also go a long way in sustaining coal’s future. The Trump Administration has promised to end several regulations that have restricted the coal industry’s progress and has vowed to discontinue funding for the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Trump has also said he plans to end the Interior Department’s moratorium on leasing federal land for coal mining and has already signed a bill undoing the Office of Surface Mining’s Stream Protection Rule.
Despite these positive developments, coal will continue to face steep competition from natural gas and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. In 2016, coal accounted for slightly more than 30 percent of the U.S. energy mix, and states that predominantly used coal for electricity generation enjoyed significantly lower rates than states that used minimal or no coal. Renewables remain an expensive and unreliable energy source for Americans from coast to coast.
Improved pricing and political pledges to roll back burdensome regulations that have held back our industry provide promise, but we must remain diligent in keeping coal at the forefront of the energy discussion. As we know and as we’ve undoubtedly experienced, notably in the last decade, our industry is susceptible to market conditions, competition, regulations and other external forces. These factors will always be part of the landscape. But we also know, through our perseverance during those challenging times, coal plays a critical role in achieving our country’s energy, economic and environmental goals now and well into the future. That is the message we must convey through good times and in bad.
As the American Coal Council celebrates its 35th anniversary of service to the coal sector in 2017, our association is well‐positioned to continue representing coal interests in the marketplace and policy arenas. The organization has continued to adapt to energy industry trends and changing coal sector conditions. A recent change for our association was ACC’s combination with another coal organization, the Coal Trading Association (CTA). This combination was approved by members of both associations in February 2017. The combined organization will operate under the existing American Coal Council name and organizational structure and be managed by CEO Betsy Monseu and current ACC staff. Two CTA Board Directors were added to the ACC Board of Directors: Steve Watson with Arch Energy Resources, and Ginny Farrow with NRG Energy. We appreciate their engagement and commitment. We’re pleased to welcome other CTA member representatives to ACC and we encourage their involvement in our programs, committees, and initiatives.
Following a great Spring Coal Forum conference in Florida in March, I look forward to seeing ACC members and other industry representatives later this year at ACC’s other conferences – the Coal Market Strategies Conference August 14–16 in Park City, Utah and the Coal Trading Conference December 4–5 in New York City, N.Y. Information on the conferences and other ACC events and educational programs is available on ACC website (www.americancoalcouncil.org) or our social media platform.
In the meantime, ACC will leverage its resources and communication platforms in outreach to the industry, policy makers, public, and the media to capitalize on the change in political climate, using the opportunity to continue informing and educating on the essential role of coal in an “all of the above” energy policy.