Current events make clear that fossil fuels will not be going away. What we must do is increase research on how to burn fossil fuels more efficiently and cleanly.
An article that recently ran in the Washington Post should remind us that good intentions and arbitrary deadlines aren’t a power source.
Headlined “As China mines more coal, levels of a more potent greenhouse gas soar,” the article highlights China’s current energy policies and should inform how we set our own.
When China ramped up its reliance on coal-fueled power plants over fears of an energy crunch, climate experts were already worried, but now a study shows that the renewed mining will boost levels of methane, a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.
The increased production and expanded capacity from mines is on track to add 10 percent to worldwide emissions of coal methane, threatening to undermine international efforts to tackle global warming, according to a recent estimate by Global Energy Monitor, a nongovernmental organization that tracks fossil fuel projects.
The reasons for China’s increased coal production should sound familiar. Demand for power strained the electric grid, forcing shutoffs. Other countries have experienced the same difficulties, including parts of ours such as California.
To avoid repeating these episodes, China turned to coal. In its energy production, unlike in the United States, it is not bound by restrictions to make the process more environmentally friendly.
Meanwhile, as Europe’s energy costs soar and its countries try to reduce dependence on energy imports from Russia, coal has also reemerged there.
Here in the United States, coal power plants have been retired prematurely as utilities expected to transition to solar and wind power. Many of us warned that these fuel sources were not ready to meet energy demand, and utilities have belatedly recognized this fact.
As an example, the Wall Street Journal reported that New Mexico electricity provider PNM pushed back a planned closure of a coal plant to the end of summer. The utility explained that solar power had not progressed quickly enough and that keeping the coal plant open will prevent “an otherwise inevitable energy shortage.”
It is unfortunate that utilities only recognize that fossil fuels continue to play an essential role now, as investment in them has stalled and prices spike. So-called green energy activists have targeted coal for decades, but their animus for coal does not erase its viability as a fuel source when alternatives are lacking.
Realistic energy policy would recognize that fossil fuels will not go away, no matter how ardently some might wish. The goal should be to use them more cleanly and efficiently.
That’s why I advocate for parity in federal research spending on fossil and non-fossil fuel sources. The private sector can lead the way, and the Federal Government can support the research and streamline regulations to bring forth new generations of technology.
The possibilities of this approach could be realized right here in Virginia’s Ninth Congressional District. I recently met with Russell County Supervisor David Eaton, Russell County’s Industrial Development Authority, and several natural gas companies. The meeting centered on the potential to use coalbed methane from historical coal mining areas in Southwest Virginia.
In Southwest Virginia, coalbed methane has been extracted for over 50 years. Pipelines already run through Russell, Tazewell, etc., Counties carrying coalbed methane, but local businesses are not able to tap into this resource. Further, I am told that most homeowners in this area do not have access to natural gas. Some in Russell County are interested in using this coalbed methane here, but improved federal and state laws, rules, and regulations are needed to make the process work.
Environmental progress and economic opportunity can work hand in hand, but only by setting aside the idea that global abandonment of fossil fuels is imminent.
Green utopians may not be satisfied, but most Americans live in the real world where limiting carbon emissions must be accompanied by energy reliability and affordability. That’s a reasonable expectation, and one energy policy should be directed toward meeting.
– Congressman H. Morgan Griffith