Republicans Question Clean Coal Budget Cuts

     WASHINGTON (CN) — In light of an estimate that fossil fuels will still account for 40 percent of global energy use by 2050, several members of Congress said Wednesday that the government should prioritize fossil fuel research over renewable energy.
     Of particular concern, which the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy noted in its hearing memo, is the Department of Energy’s de-obligation of $240 million from Clean Coal Power Initiative projects.
     According to the agency’s fiscal year 2017 proposed budget, the Office of Fossil Energy will use those redirected funds to support several major integrated carbon capture and sequestration demonstration projects. The bulk of the funds earmarked for the office will support Mission Innovation, which emerged from the Paris climate talks, and aims to accelerate clean-energy innovation to make it widely affordable.
     The 20 participating countries have promised to double clean energy research and development over five years as part of the global effort to mitigate climate change and limit the global temperature increase to well below two degrees Celsius.
     Several subcommittee members expressed doubt about this use of federal money at the Energy Department oversight hearing Wednesday morning.
     “Through the national labs, the department should take the lead on fossil energy technology innovation, conducting the foundational research that allows the private sector to commercialize groundbreaking technology,” said Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican from Texas.
     “Unfortunately, that is not the type of budget proposal we’re discussing today,” he added, lamenting that the Energy Department slashed its fossil energy research and development budget by $32 million, while increasing support for renewable energy by $2.1 billion.
     “It is clear that fossil energy innovation is not the priority for the Obama administration,” Weber said.
     The International Energy Agency estimated that fossil fuels will still account for 40 percent of the world’s energy use by 2050.
     Weber said the fossil energy budget is too heavily focused on management of carbon dioxide emissions and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulatory compliance.
     Other subcommittee members criticized the Energy Department for the decline in the U.S. coal industry.
     “The Department of Energy refuses to prioritize early stage research and development for innovative fossil energy exploration and production technologies, or research to develop and integrate technology to make coal-fired power plants more efficient,” said Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas.
     The department “should expand access to America’s oil and gas resources, not use limited federal research dollars to help the EPA measure emissions,” he added, while chiding the department for a perceived lack of transparency in its 2017 budget.
     Chris Smith, the assistant secretary for fossil energy appointed by President Barack Obama, challenged these notions.
     “Our fossil fuel resources are essential to the nation’s security and economic prosperity,” the hearing’s only witness said in his written testimony. “At the same time, a dramatic shift in the way we use fossil fuels will be critical to meeting our national and global climate goals.”
     The U.S. must be a builder and a leader in creating clean-energy technology innovation, Smith told the subcommittee.
     Smith, who noted the continued importance of fossil fuels in his testimony, also asserted throughout the hearing that cheap natural gas prices have dealt the coal industry a stronger blow than government policies designed to reduce greenhouse emissions.
     Alan Grayson, D-Fla., echoed Smith.
     “The so-called ‘war on coal’ has been carried out by the market, not the government,” Grayson said.
     Smith says that the Office of Fossil Energy will continue to develop technologies “that will enable the environmentally sound and more efficient use of fossil energy resources in the face of climate change.”
     On the flip side of the aforementioned criticism, Smith had to answer for other Energy Department budget cuts.
     Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, noted that the Energy Department made big cuts to programs carried out by Smith’s office. Johnson said this included the elimination of the Carbon Use and Reuse program, which supported the development of technologies that could boost the market for carbon dioxide without producing more emissions, and cuts to fuel cell research, the advanced turbines subprogram and gasification systems.
     Smith said the budget is consistent with the goals of mission innovation, and in fact increased by $31 million. Smith chalked some of the budget cuts up to advances in some of his office’s programs, noting that some carbon capture programs have advanced from the injection phase to their less costly monitoring phase.
     That means the office can reduce funding in some areas and redirect it to other areas it believes will be “truly transformational” in reducing the cost of capturing carbon dioxide, he said.
     Smith noted that some of the Energy Department’s major demonstration projects and sequestration partnerships have already captured and stored nearly 12 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
     That did not stop Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., from airing his doubts about the validity of climate science.
     “There are hundreds of scientists who do not believe that the global warming theory based on CO2 heating our planet is correct,” Rohrabacher said.
     The forcible shift from coal to natural gas and renewable energy is “running roughshod over the livelihood and the well being of many American working people,” he added.
     “I don’t accept the fact that CO2 in any way causes human health problems,” Rohrabacher said.
     Smith took time to highlight the 190 countries that made specific commitments – with U.S. leadership – to address climate change and carbon emissions at the Paris climate talks, calling it “a remarkable outcome.”
     “There is an emerged scientific consensus around this existential need to address carbon pollution,” he said to Rohrabacher.
     Meanwhile, Grayson drew laughter a few minutes later at Rohrabacher’s expense.
     “If he thinks that carbon dioxide doesn’t cause any human health problems, I invite him to put a plastic bag over his head and tie it tightly around his neck and see what happens next,” Grayson said.
     “They’re always trying to do that to me anyway,” Rohrabacher retorted.

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