The US coal industry is attempting to position itself as a partner in the push to lower carbon emissions, instead of a relic of a high-emissions past. Executives from the three largest coal producers in the US have aligned themselves with organizations that have criticized them heavily, in order to acknowledge the need for cleaner energy, which gas gained vast momentum in recent years. Cloud Peak Energy, Peabody Energy, and Arch Coal, which are the three largest US producers, are lobbying to promote a tax bill that would expand government subsidies to minimize the environmental impact of coal power.
Sounding in line with critics of the industry, Richard Reavey, who is vice president for government and public affairs at Cloud Peak Energy, said:
“We can’t turn back time. We have to accept that there are reasonable concerns about carbon dioxide and climate, and something has to be done about it. It’s a political reality, it’s a social reality, and it has to be dealt with.”
Until recently, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) did not appear to be a viable option for dealing with emissions, having proven expensive and unwieldy. The method seeks to trap emissions before they enter the atmosphere to add to the greenhouse effect. Recent advances in CCS technology has opened up a new avenue for the coal industry.
In an argument that echoes that of the industry’s most vocal critics, the executives have said that recent gains in renewable energy and environmental regulations will not be enough to halt climate change while supplying still rising demand for energy. Arguing that fossil fuels will remain prevalent as an energy source for decades, they argue that carbon capture technology can reduce the carbon output of coal and gas-fired plants. While the support for CCS technology is not unprecedented, a wider acceptance of climate science in the coal industry, as well as oil and gas industries, is a fairly new development.
Deck S. Slone, senior vice president for strategy and public policy at Arch Coal, said:
“We need a low-carbon fossil solution. The political landscape is always shifting and carbon concerns are certainly not going away. We think there is a solution out there in the form of technology that is an answer to the climate challenge and that quite frankly will be good for our business long term.”
Coal production has hit a slump in the face of rising renewable energy, with 2015 seeing the lowest rate of production since 1978.