Russia conflict shines bright spotlight on need for better decarbonization strategies

Source: The Hill 

May 3, 2022

By: Cecil E. Roberts, UMWA International President


Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Americans to see our energy choices in a stark new light. A secure energy future for America and its allies has always been essential but its specific requirements were easy to ignore. Now, Russia’s actions have forced a more thoughtful consideration of both our goals and how we go about achieving them.

Many people say now is the time for an energy revolution. We couldn’t agree more. Clean, secure, reliable, abundant and affordable domestic energy is indispensable to America’s security. But what does that require?  How do we get there?

Geographic, economic, technological and political realities all point to one conclusion: A practical clean energy future must be built upon a foundation of demonstrated, commercially competitive technologies for all fuels. While each energy source has its champions and detractors, we need to call upon every energy resource America and its allies have, and use them in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

Keeping America’s abundant fossil fuels on the grid while providing the necessary policy support to decarbonize is more critical today than ever before as we confront concurrent economic, climate and energy security challenges. Advanced carbon capture technologies can make America’s vast fossil resources a foundation for clean energy security in the United States and globally. These technologies have growing support in Congress as well as the Biden administration.

Some have argued that now is the time to move towards a renewables-only energy system—the sun and wind being “domestic” energy resources. But the technologies (and critical minerals) needed to capture those resources—solar panels, windmills, and batteries—are not usually domestically produced. Going all-renewables would mean exchanging reliance on Russian gas for Chinese-made batteries and solar panels. Making these in America, and developing more of the natural resources they require, will take time, investment, and new policies. We should certainly produce a lot more critical minerals in the U.S. and use more renewables—but that should be just one part of a national strategy for energy security, not the whole.

There’s a better way to move forward. Firm clean power, available at the flip of a switch, is indispensable to affordable decarbonization. American-made advanced carbon capture technologies could allow allies such as Japan, South Korea, and a host of European nations to replace Russian gas with zero-emissions American coal.

Everyone wants a clean and secure energy future for America, but the legislative magic needed to make it happen has been elusive. We cannot let that continue. As we see vividly in Europe today, it takes years and billions of dollars in investments to make major changes in energy systems. If we want to secure America’s energy future, we need a durable federal framework now to guide the massive public and private investments that are required in the coming decades. We need energy policies that can endure past the next election cycle, judicial decision or overseas conflict.

The way to do this is through practical, bipartisan legislation that unites us in a national effort to generate clean energy from all domestic resources. Americans have a common interest in getting this right, and we should not let zero-sum politics stand in the way. Pragmatic proposals exist today, such as a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives coauthored by two senior members of the Energy & Commerce Committee, David McKinley (R-W.Va.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), which provides the framework we need to advance our energy agenda.

The bipartisan McKinley-Schrader bill would ensure we eliminate virtually all air emissions from America’s electric power plants—while keeping the lights on, electric bills low, and America’s mineworkers and power-sector unions on the job. It would end the perpetual partisan fight over fuels and ensure that we use every clean domestic resource—wind and solar, coal and gas, existing nuclear and advanced reactors. Other members of Congress have sponsored similar proposals, giving reason to hope that support for the McKinley-Schrader framework might grow.

Advanced carbon capture technologies are ready to be used at scale. With the right federal support, America could replace its older coal plants with a new fleet of zero-emissions coal and gas plants that would become a backbone for affordable, reliable, and clean domestic energy going forward.

For 30 years, climate politics have been framed in zero-sum terms, needlessly pitting environmental interests against energy security and reliability. Building a clean and secure energy supply system for America and its allies can be done. It requires moving past yesterday’s arguments and working together for our own good. That’s a cause that should unite all Americans.

The United Mine Workers are ready to put their shoulders to the wheel if Congress will do its part.