Congress told coal essential to US energy policy

GREATER support for the further development of clean coal technologies was the main message from vice chairman of the National Mining Association (NMA), J Brett Harvey, testifying before a Congressional sub-committee in Washington.

Staff Reporter

Harvey, also the boss of major US miner Consol Energy, testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality on March 14. Coal is a cornerstone of the nation's energy strategy, and America needs an energy policy that encourages investment in both existing and advanced clean coal technologies, Harvey told the Congressional subcommittee.

He also urged the group to recommend a climate change policy that does not work at odds with the goal of affordable, reliable energy.

Government policies over the past eight years have discouraged - if not outright prevented - investments in the domestic energy infrastructure, Harvey said. As a result, demand for electricity has outstripped supply.

"The coal industry has the capability to produce the coal. However, to do so will require policy changes that include opening up reserves now shut off for development, clarifying environmental regulations related to mining, and changing tax policies," Harvey said.

To meet the continued rising demand for energy, the United States needs a balanced energy policy that ensures electricity generators a mix of fuels -- with the largest share of new base load capacity based on the use of coal, he said.

But pending regulatory actions, combined with uncertainties associated with deregulation of power generation, have effectively prevented consideration of new coal plants or modification of existing plants, Harvey said. These proposals to limits sulfur, nitrogen and mercury emissions are "based on the premise that more coal means more emissions - that coal and environmental protection are incompatible," he said. "This is simply not true."

The technology exists to further increase coal use while continuing to reduce emissions of the criteria pollutants, Harvey said.

"In the short term, the challenge is twofold - to expand the use of advanced NOx and SO2 control technologies in existing plants, and to move newer demonstrated clean coal technologies to commercialization," he said. "In the long term, the challenge is to develop and commercialise 'zero emissions' coal-fired power plants."

To meet these twin challenges required expanded Department of Energy programs for research and development of technology for both new and existing coal-based generation. Owners of older technology boilers should be offered incentives through an investment tax credit for retrofitting their existing boilers with new emission control technology. A risk-sharing program should be established for a limited number of early commercial applications of advanced clean coal technologies.

At the same time, Harvey said the US must ensure that domestic international climate discussions take into consideration the nation's energy and economic needs. Mandatory reduction of carbon emissions automatically will mean higher cost energy, he said.

"Let me say unequivocally, CO2 is not a pollutant, and it should not be defined as such," Harvey told the committee.

As the coal industry’s representative Harvey proposed greater use of carbon sinks, improved funding for carbon sequestration technologies, the development of new technologies to improve emissions, and the start of an aggressive voluntary reporting and reduction program.

Harvey also called for America's CO2 emissions not to be arbitrarily capped, taxed or regulated.

Coal is the largest domestic fuel source in the United States, accounting for 90-95% of the nation's fossil reserves. One-third of domestic production of energy is coal. The coal industry produces more than 1.1 billion tons of coal per year, and more than 90% of that coal is used to make electricity.

See the related story on Consol’s February results.

Demand for both electricity and coal is expected to increase significantly. The Department of Energy has forecast the need for almost 400 gigawatts of new and replacement capacity over the next 20 years.