Former Rep. Klink discusses Democratic coalition promoting clean coal technology

Are the Obama administration's clean energy policies an accurate reflection of coal's future role in the United States' energy portfolio? During today's OnPoint, former Rep. Ron Klink, chairman of the CoalBlue Project, discusses a new coalition of more than 400 Democratic officials urging the president to fund advancements in clean coal technology. Klink, who served on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power while in Congress, also gives his views on how the conversation on energy among lawmakers has evolved.


Monica Trauzzi: Hello, and welcome to OnPoint. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Joining me today is former Congressman Ron Klink, chairman of the board of the CoalBlue Project. Congressman Klink, thanks for coming on the show.

Ron Klink: Thanks for having me, Monica. It's good to be here.

Monica Trauzzi: Congressman, the CoalBlue project involves over 400 Democratic officials in 16 states calling on the Obama administration to adopt clean energy policies that sort of better reflect the future of coal in the United States. What are your expectations for coal's future as we see more renewables coming online and as we see natural gas playing a greater role in base-load power generation?

Ron Klink: Well, the rest of the world beyond the United States is more dependent upon coal now than ever before. In fact, the International Energy Agency predicts that by the year 2017 that coal will come close to, if not surpassing oil as the number one use of energy creation in the entire world. And a lot of that is going to happen in the Third World countries where they're going to rely more on coal. Our point is that we know that a fourth of all energy production by 2040 is going to require coal; that a third of the electricity production by 2040 is going to be produced by coal. There is no way, for many decades to come, that coal is not going to be a large part of this and we think that, therefore, it needs to be a clean energy. We need to mitigate the carbon in the coal and we need to use technologies. And those technologies should be American technologies. We should invest in them; clean up the air globally and create employment here in the United States.

Monica Trauzzi: So you talked about the role that coal will play in the international market.

Ron Klink: Mm-hmm.

Monica Trauzzi: So are you talking about exporting coal from the U.S., and is that why we need to clean it up?

Ron Klink: Well, we may export coal from the United States, but the point is that whether we export it or not, that coal is going to be used globally. In 2009 China, for example, went from a net coal exporter to a net coal importer. And the numbers, if you look at a graph, the Chinese imports of coal go up dramatically. For a while, and I'm not sure of the current numbers, but they were adding one coal-fire power plant every week in China. So China and India alone are increasing. Just in the next four years we expect to see coal use in the entire world to increase by 1.2 billion tons per year. That's more --

Monica Trauzzi: But just because it's going up elsewhere, why do we have to continue to produce it?

Ron Klink: Well if you're --

Monica Trauzzi: Can't we lead or drive the conversation in the other [cross talk] in another direction?

Ron Klink: No, not really. We also -- well, we also need coal here in the United States. We're not going to wean ourselves off coal in the immediate future. We're going to have it for many decades to come. But those that have global climate concerns, we all live on the same globe. We want that air to be as clean as it can be. We want the health impact globally to be the best that it can be. And so, therefore, if these countries are going to use coal -- and they are, we think that we need to mitigate carbon. And the United States government, really, in the New Source Performance Standards for new electric companies -- that are the new electric plants that are being built, act as though the carbon capture and sequestration is a science that's already perfect. It is not! It still needs investment. It needs a public and private cooperation between the industry and the government together. And that's an investment that will bring in an increase of tax dollars as we grow new industries that can clean the carbon fuels.

Monica Trauzzi: So what does that mean then? Should the U.S. be putting its full efforts behind a FutureGen-like project that we saw years ago that sort of has lost its way a bit? But should we be emphasizing really developing that technology here at home?

Ron Klink: Well, we should because what we know is (a) coal is going to be used. It's going to be used domestically, although it's not going to increase in the United States as much as it is globally, but it is going to increase globally. We know that other carbon fuels are going to be part of the overall use of building up economies around the world. And, therefore, we need to make a public investment, along with a private investment, to make sure that the technologies to clean up that air and to clean those carbon sources are the best that they can be.

Monica Trauzzi: What's the consensus in Congress, among current members of Congress right now, on an initiative like this?

Ron Klink: Well, we're worried about Democrats right now. I think on the Republican side that you have got some people that are realistic. The CoalBlue folks, and you mentioned the number over 400, just working on our own we managed to get over 400 Democrats to sign this letter to the president calling on a common-sense approach to coal. I think there are probably many hundreds more Democrats. And I think in Congress we have our work cut out for us. I think that what we need to do is to get up to the Hill and to talk to members, particularly on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. There are a lot of new members there. I think we need to do our disciple work and get out there and let them know that coal has to be a part of the future. That's not to the detriment of renewables. It's not to the detriment of natural gas. It's not to the detriment of anything else. But we can't completely cut back as the administration has, in some instances, dramatically, the dollars that are being invested in carbon sequestration and capture.

Monica Trauzzi: The Supreme Court announced this week it would review aspects of U.S. EPA's greenhouse gas regulations. How significant is this move in the broader context of the discussion on coal?

Ron Klink: Well, we've been keeping up with that. I think it's very significant because there is no lobbying the Supreme Court. They'll make the decisions that they're going to make and the attorneys will make their argument. But I think, at the end of the last great day, that's going to be a very important decision for this industry.

Monica Trauzzi: You served on the Energy and Power Subcommittee while you were in Congress.

Ron Klink: Mm-hmm.

Monica Trauzzi: Looking from the outside in now, how do you think the conversation on energy has shifted among lawmakers, particularly on the Energy and Commerce Committee?

Ron Klink: I am concerned that -- and the reason I decided to get involved in CoalBlue, you know, so many of our communities across the United States are dependent upon coal. We have -- our ancestors have gone deep into the bowels of the earth and mined coal and given this country the cheap energy that's made us the world power that we are today. And to turn our backs on these communities at a time when we need coal as much as we can, I think, would be a big mistake. And, therefore, I think that we need to -- there are a lot of people on the other side -- I call us the common-sense wing of the Democratic Party, there are a lot on the dreamer side -- and we like the dreamers! We're a big tent party. But there are a lot on the dreamers' side that say, "No coal! Get rid of it! Goodbye!" And that's just not reasonable. We're going to have it.

And I think we need to sit down and have some really good discussions with members who don't come from coal-producing states who still sit on that subcommittee and who's still on the Energy and Commerce Committee. I think that they need to be educated. And I think that our letter to the administration was just kind of a first shot to say, "Mr. President, these are the things you said; we agree with you. We don't necessarily agree with the way you're going to get there. We think your administration has to make changes." And I think we have to get to the Hill and talk to these members that are on the subcommittee, particularly the Democrats, and start to educate them and let them know that there are other ways of achieving clean energy that's reliable, abundant and affordable and we can clean it up, and that's coal!

Monica Trauzzi: And the debate continues! Congressman, thank you for coming on the show.

Ron Klink: It does! Thanks, Monica, it's good to be with you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

[End of Audio]



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