When signing his March executive order to revise the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era policy measure to limit power plant carbon emissions, President Trump promised coal miners in attendance, “My administration is putting an end to the war on coal. We’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal.”
Released Tuesday, Trump’s 2018 budget proposal cutting funding for clean coal by 85%.
“Clean coal” refers to emerging technologies that capture the carbon released from coal-burning power plants. The carbon is then stored and, in many cases, pumped into depleted oil fields to extract additional fossil fuels in a process called “enhanced oil recovery.” Clean coal is one of the few energy technologies that’s seen tepid support among both environmentalists and the fossil fuel industry, because in theory it lowers carbon emissions from coal plants without shutting them down. Unfortunately, the tech is incredibly expensive and most experts don’t see it as a viable to solution global warming. The first “clean coal” plant in America was a flailing mess. And clean coal won’t become more viable without more investment in the basic science underpinning it.
The DOE’s Fossil Energy Research and Development department researches various fossil fuels and how to make their use more “environmentally sound.” About 40% of the Department’s resources go to carbon capture and storage research, and Trump’s budget cuts both: carbon capture is cut from $101 million to $16 million, and carbon storage is cut from $106 million to $15 million. Overall, FERD’s budget is cut 55%.
These budget cuts are part of Trump’s plan to vastly reduce government spending. And while the budget is unlikely to pass Congress with all the proposals intact, it’s clear that the Trump administration has no interest in earnest funding for new energy technologies. ARPA-E, which researches advanced clean energy technology, is being terminated, and the DOE’s Office of Science, which also funds clean energy research, is facing a 16.6 percent cut.
Although the budget’s fact sheet specifically says Trump has allotted money for “advancing clean coal technologies,” the opposite is happening. Trump is trying to kill clean coal. And while it’s still an expensive and pretty speculative technology, Trump has shown that he’s not interested in balancing relief for out-of-work coal miners with environmental protection—he’s deregulating quickly and defunding the energy industries of the future faster.
Time will tell if either will benefit coal miners, but his promise of “really clean coal,” at least, has been flagrantly broken.