While President Donald Trump continues to tout “clean” coal, coal baron Robert Murray says it’s just a fantasy.
“Carbon capture and sequestration does not work. It’s a pseudonym for ‘no coal,’” the CEO of Murray Energy, the country’s largest privately held coal-mining company, told E&E News.
Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), also called carbon capture and storage, is the process of trapping carbon dioxide from a power plant (during or after burning a hydrocarbon like coal) and then storing it permanently, usually underground.
It’s a technically challenging and expensive process — especially problematic in an era of cheap natural gas and renewable energy. Mississippi pulled the plug on one of the country’s biggest CCS efforts last month after the company spent billions on trying, and failing, to make it work.
While many clean energy analysts (including me) have long been dubious of CCS for economic, environmental, and practical reasons, the coal industry has touted “clean coal” as the long-term savior of the industry in a carbon-constrained world.
That’s why it’s so stunning a top coal CEO like Murray would now say that clean coal isn’t a real thing.
“It is neither practical nor economic, carbon capture and sequestration,” he said last week. “It is just cover for the politicians, both Republicans and Democrats that say, ‘Look what I did for coal,’ knowing all the time that it doesn’t help coal at all.”
And this is from a guy who is a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity — which has spent tens of millions of dollars trying to persuade the public that clean coal is the solution to global warming.
If, as Murray says, CCS is “neither practical nor economic,” then coal clearly has no future. Two years ago the nations of the world agreed in Paris to bring global CO2 emissions down to zero in the second half of this century — the only way to avoid multiple, irreversible catastrophic climate impacts.
And if we won’t be using coal in the foreseeable future, then we need to start an orderly reduction of existing coal plants — in contrast to Murray’s support for team Trump’s plan to boost coal use. It makes little or no sense to keep building new coal plants, since they will have to be shuttered prematurely and replaced with carbon-free energy. All that wasted capital would be better spent on sustainable carbon-free sources from the start. This is precisely the calculus that more and more countries are starting to make today, including China.
The coal industry has pushed CCS and “clean coal” for years. But coal baron Murray just let the cat out of the bag: Clean coal is a fiction.