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New US energy secretary: ‘There’s a bright future for coal’

The US Senate confirmed former deputy energy secretary Dan Brouillette to be the next energy secretary last night. Yesterday, Brouillette said that Donald Trump told him to figure out a way to boost coal.

In an interview with the Washington Examiner, Brouillette, who was accompanied by his predecessor, Rick Perry, said, “What the president has directed us to do is to look for different ways to utilize coal.”

The Senate confirmed Brouillette 70-15. He has not yet been sworn in. As Electrek previously reported, Brouillette takes an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy. He actively supports green energy such as solar, but he also still backs fossil fuels.

Brouillette (pictured, right) succeeds Perry (pictured, left), who announced his resignation in October. Perry’s last day as energy secretary was Sunday.

Perry resigned amid questions about whether he was involved in the withholding of military aid for Ukraine, as part of the impeachment inquiry.

Clinging to coal

When Josh Siegel, an energy and environment reporter at the Examiner, asked Perry and Brouillette about the fact that coal is rapidly declining in the market, Brouillette replied:

There are other uses for this product in the marketplace today. We can make carbon from it, we can extract rare earth metals from it. We can look at the residue, for instance, from coal ash, and pull out critical materials for battery storage. There’s a bright future for coal, we’re just going to continue to develop it as it goes along.

The Examiner points out that “more coal plants shuttered in Trump’s first two years than were retired during Barack Obama’s first term.”

The Hill reports:

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission spiked a proposal from Perry that would have mandated higher electricity prices for coal. The proposal would have increased revenue for coal plants that kept at least 90 days of fuel on site, in an effort to shore up the electric supply.

The plan was roundly criticized as a politically motivated effort to benefit industries favored by the Trump administration that would raise electricity costs by as much as $11.8 billion.

Electrek’s Take

As I’ve cited before, my colleague Jameson Dow wrote after Perry announced his resignation:

We can hope that the situation will improve under Brouillette, and that he will take a more steady hand in guiding this country’s energy policy toward the obvious green-energy direction it is and should be going in, and away from dirty, deadly, expensive fossil fuels.

We were indeed hoping for that — and that’s not going to happen. Brouillette’s comments about coal are not only disappointing, they’re infuriating. They’re also baffling. A “bright future for coal”? Does he pay any attention to current events?

On September 17, Electrek reported that US coal shipments are at its lowest level in 36 years. On October 29, Electrek reported that the US’s largest private coal company filed for bankruptcy.

And yesterday, the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres stated that the world’s largest emitters are not pulling their weight — on the same day that Brouillette cheerfully explained his coal alchemy ideas. Guterres sure got that right about the US’s incoming Department of Energy head.

I guess Brouillette didn’t read the UN’s 10th annual Emissions Gap Report 2019 released last week, which declared the need to cut emissions as ridiculously urgent.

Brouillette has made it clear that even though he doesn’t intend to subsidize coal, he also has no intention of abandoning it, either. He just keeps citing “different technologies” like carbon capture.

Despite this claimed intent not to subsidize coal, he has not announced any plans to put a price on the external costs that coal foists on all of us. Until those externalities are priced properly, coal will continue to be subsidized as part of the $649 billion yearly subsidy to fossil fuels in the US alone.

Scientists, the United Nations, environmental groups, other heads of state, millions of ordinary people from all over the world… oh, and US voters of both political parties support ceasing the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Heck, even senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Marco Rubio (R-FL) have joined the US Senate’s bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus.

Millions are striking and marching all over the world, week in and week out, demanding — begging for — action in order to prevent utter global devastation.

Who has to say it before this administration finally listens? Will they ever listen? We are in a climate emergency. It was human activity, and in particular the burning of fossil fuels, that caused this crisis. We have the technology and the science to move to renewable energy.

There is no bright future for coal, Mr. Brouillette, and no matter what Trump’s destructive “American Energy Dominance Plan” states, it certainly isn’t “dominating” anything. Perhaps set an example, instead of trying to “dominate.” Lead into the future, not cling to the past.

Coal kills people, it is extremely costly, and it destroys our planet. We have much cleaner energy alternatives now. Coal is dead. Leave it in the ground.

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in St. Petersburg, Florida. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at Check out her personal blog.