Trump wants to lift restrictions on ‘clean coal.’ Whatever that is – Washington Post
In a video released Monday, president-elect Donald Trump pledged that in his first 100 days in office he would abolish a host of regulations to stimulate domestic energy production.
“I will cancel job-killing restrictions on the production of American energy, including shale energy and clean coal, creating many millions of high-paying jobs,” he said. “That’s what we want, that’s what we’ve been waiting for.”
Trump didn’t spell out what restrictions he has in mind. While energy experts and businesses can point to a variety of federal environmental regulations on oil and gas drilling, most were perplexed by what Trump might have been talking about with regard to restrictions on “clean coal.”
“There aren’t any restrictions on clean coal, on the research on making coal cleaner. I don’t think that there’s restrictions on that. Indeed the Department of Energy has been actively funding research on clean coal. So what he must be implying there is that any restrictions on coal are restrictions on clean coal,” said Tom McGarity, a law professor at the University of Texas at Austin who specializes in the regulatory process.
In addition, creating “many millions of high-paying jobs” seemed unlikely. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a total of 352,800 people are currently working in the oil and gas and mining sectors.
“I think the right way to read that is that he intends to scrap a lot of environmental rules that regulate coal production and end the Clean Power Plan that would accelerate the decline of coal,” said Jason Bordoff, founder of Columbia University’s center for global energy policy. “And the use of the word ‘clean’ is just propaganda to pretend all coal is clean.”
Experts note that coal is not ever clean. The mining process disturbs the land, produces toxic waste in the form of coal ash, and when burned for electric power emits traditional pollutants such as mercury as well as carbon dioxide, which speeds climate change. Carbon-capture-and-storage systems can reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but there is no technology that can do this economically at large scale. In some places, it is done when the carbon dioxide can be used for enhanced oil recovery or other industrial purpose.
“The coal industry has been declining for many reasons much more important than government regulation,” Bordoff said, citing competition from cheaper natural gas, the falling cost of producing energy from renewable sources such as solar and wind, and weak Asian demand for coal. “So eliminating environmental rules like the Clean Power Plan can slow the decline of coal but the coal industry is not coming back as he promised even if he eliminates all these rules.”
When it comes to oil and gas drilling, there are more identifiable targets for Trump and the industry. Those options increase if Trump has the cooperation of the U.S. Congress, which he surely will, and chooses to use a Gingrich-era law called the Congressional Review Act. This allows, in certain circumstances, for an incoming president and sympathetic Congress to nullify late-arriving regulations finalized by the previous administration. If the regulations were finalized within 60 days of the end of either the House’s or Senate’s sessions, then they can fall victim to the objections of the next Congress. If the party holding the White House has changed, then a resolution under the Act is unlikely to be vetoed.
According to a Congressional Research Service determination issued just after the November election, this would apply to regulations finalized after May 30, 2016 if Congress did not come into session again this year. As the congressional calendar changes between now and the close of the year, that date will move forward. This would subject some Obama administration rules to potential reversal.