The US Treasury Department this week confirmed revised technical guidance indicating the US would no longer have a role in projects tied to coal supported by World Bank funding or money from other international development banks.
“This step will help to level the playing field for clean energy alternatives and support low-emission power generation worldwide, including coal plants using carbon capture and sequestration technologies,” the agency said.
Specifically, the administration said that US government support for public financing of new coal plants overseas would end except in cases where the most efficient coal technology available was used in the world's poorest countries where no other economically feasible alternative existed.
Facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies will also be exempt from the new rule.
The agency said it would be actively working with other countries and multilateral development banks to secure their agreement to adopt similar policies.
“As developing economies embark on a journey towards a clean energy future, [this] announcement marks an important step in helping them reach this goal,” Treasury under-secretary for international affairs Lael Brainard said.
“By encouraging the use of clean energy in multilateral development bank projects, we are furthering US efforts to address the urgent challenges of climate change.”
The Sierra Club applauded the move in the hours after the announcement.
“The precedent that the US has set is essentially saying to the international community that coal is no longer an acceptable fuel source,” Sierra Club spokesman Justin Guay said.
The National Mining Association, meanwhile, put the situation into a more urgent perspective, noting the plan meant America would leave “millions of poor in perpetual darkness”
“More than a billion people in the world lack electricity and another 1.6 billion have only limited access,” NMA president and CEO Hal Quinn said.
“They will never have it in their lifetimes without coal to supply it, since coal is the only energy source abundant and cheap enough to bring massive additions in electricity supply to the developing world.”
With the US holding the world’s largest reserves and coal serving as the top energy source for electricity, Quinn said the administration’s “misguided policy” only served to further diminish prospects for millions of the world's poor.
He said it was out of character from a nation that had historically prided itself for its efforts to reach out to those in deprived circumstances.
“In addition to ignoring the hundreds of millions in perpetual darkness, the administration's policy turns its back on the opportunity to create more middle class jobs and increase the US GDP, making it a lose-lose proposition,” he said.
“The demand for affordable coal powered electricity in the developing world will be filled by other nations who are stepping up to fulfil that need, while the US will lose the economic and employment gains not only for domestic coal miners but for the related heavy equipment, transportation and manufacturing sectors that likewise stand to benefit.”