President Trump’s commitment to fossil fuels could mark a turning point in America’s energy future. Certainly, expanded federal support for coal, natural gas and petroleum would create jobs for workers engaged in field construction, coal mining, petroleum and natural gas extraction, transportation and other industries.
With thousands of union Boilermakers employed in these industries across the United States and Canada, the Boilermakers union welcomes the opportunity for more work. At the same time, we recognize that our nation and the global community must take steps to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions created when fossil fuels are burned.
For more than a decade, we have supported technologies to capture and permanently store carbon dioxide emissions, and to extract carbon for use in various products. We were directly involved in the Waxman-Markey bill in 2009, which passed the House but died in the Senate. Among other things, that bill would have provided incentives to develop emerging carbon capture technologies, allowing their phase-in without an abrupt disruption of the energy market.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) and carbon capture, use and storage (CCUS) are only now seeing broader commercial use around the world.
Boilermakers have been involved in constructing major CCS projects in North America, notably North West Upgrading’s $8.5 billion Sturgeon Refinery in Alberta, designed from the ground up to capture CO2 for enhanced oil recovery; the $1.35 billion Shell Quest project in Alberta that captures CO2 during bitumen oil upgrading and permanently stores it underground; and the $1.5 billion SaskPower Boundary Dam project in Saskatchewan, the world’s first commercial-scale retrofit of CCS technology on an existing coal-fired unit.
These projects, along with others in the United States and around the world, are pioneering developments that could — and must — lead to a global application of CCS. Without CCS, industries worldwide will continue pumping CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. And it isn’t just coal-fired and gas-fired power plants that emit CO2. Cement plants, refineries, aluminum smelters, steel mills, chemical plants and other energy-intensive facilities generate substantial amounts of greenhouse gases too.
Remove policy and regulatory roadblocks
Widespread deployment of CCS and CCUS has been hampered by a lack of political will, unfair government policies and regulations, and the demonization of fossil fuels by environmental groups.
The popular stance is to promote renewables above all else. Indeed, wind and solar have received a disproportionate share of federal support despite their reliability concerns. Consider that in 2013 renewables received $13.2 billion in subsidies and incentives while coal received just $1.1 billion (Energy Information Administration, 2015). Despite this support, in 2015 wind accounted for just 5.6 percent of total U.S. electricity generation, solar just 0.9 percent.
Nearly two-thirds of America’s electricity comes from coal and natural gas — and those sources are where CCS/CCUS can do the most good. But favoritism towards renewables and restrictive Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations have created market uncertainty for fossil fuels. So has the Green Movement’s endless lawsuits and “leave it in the ground” mantra.
It is time for our federal government to rewrite energy policies and regulations that are more balanced and that recognize the value of CCS/CCUS. We need an “all of the above” approach that does not play favorites with fuel sources, but instead seeks to make the best, most efficient and lowest-emitting use of each. Renewables are important and necessary. So are nuclear energy and fossil fuels. Federal support must be more evenly distributed where it will do the most good.
One bright spot has been the work of the Energy Department’s Fossil Energy Research and Development Program. Under former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz’s direction, this program provided needed, albeit limited, funding to promising CCS projects in the United States. It deserves greater congressional funding to continue this work.
Remain involved in global climate talks
America’s path forward in any new energy policy must consider the reality that climate change exists and to some degree mankind contributes to it. We can’t simply ignore the evidence, but neither should we buy into the hysteria surrounding the issue — or accept policy decisions that needlessly destroy jobs and harm our economy.
The momentum to address climate change is real. It was demonstrated by the 2015 Paris climate change accord, signed onto by nearly 200 countries. It exists at the highest levels of world governments and in the boardrooms of major corporations. It would be wrong for the world’s leading economy, and one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, to abdicate leadership in the quest to find solutions.
Given the continued reliance on fossil fuels, it seems obvious that the most effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is through CCS/CCUS. In fact, the International Energy Agency has estimated that globally it would cost about $2 trillion more to mitigate CO2 in the power sector by 2050 without employing CCS.
A sound U.S. energy policy will ramp up CCS/CCUS investments so these technologies truly become commercially available for new construction and can be retrofitted to existing power plants — natural gas-fired as well as coal-fired. These technologies will also be needed to limit global emissions from kilns, smelters and mills, all of which generate substantial greenhouse gases.
The Boilermakers union believes that as CCS/CCUS technology becomes more economically feasible, it should be made available throughout the world. Ideally, a global partnership could be formed to fund, develop and distribute the technology.
At an energy crossroads
Resetting our national energy policy is critical to Boilermaker jobs and the jobs of many other workers, union and nonunion alike. Communities have been devastated by closed coal mines and shuttered power plants. The EPA has seemed callous and indifferent to the harm its regulations have caused to working people.
It is vital that our nation adopt an “all of the above” strategy that maximizes the best use of every energy source we have available. For fossil fuels, CCS/CCUS holds the best promise.
Realizing that promise will require the current administration and both major parties in Congress to get serious about reducing emission levels and ending the demonization of fossil fuels.
• Newton B. Jones is international president of the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers, AFL-CIO, CLC. The union, headquartered in Kansas City, Kansas, represents North American workers engaged in field construction and maintenance, shipbuilding, cement making, railroads, manufacturing, mining and other industries.
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