Members Question Administration Coal R&D Priorities

Oct 14, 2011

Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment held a hearing to examine current Department of Energy (DOE) coal research, development, and demonstration (RD&D) activities and identify future coal RD&D opportunities and priorities.

“Coal delivers plentiful, affordable, and reliable electricity to millions of homes and businesses every day,” said Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris (R-MD).  “Rarely, however, has a beneficial, life-improving resource upon which we depend so heavily been so maligned.”  Harris continued, “Despite steadily improving efficiency and significantly cleaner processes, coal suffers from a reputation that leads many to think—wrongly—that we’d be better off without it.”

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States currently generates approximately 45% of its electricity from coal-fired power plants.  Globally, coal-fired generation currently produces over 40% of electricity, and proven global coal reserves are estimated to be sufficient to last 118 years.  However, the coal industry has come under heavy fire by a barrage of new rules that have been proposed under the authorities of the Clean Air Act by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 

Emphasizing the severe economic impacts looming as a result of updated EPA regulations, Mr. Nick Akins, President of American Electric Power, said, “The combination of EPA's new rules for power plants will result in a series of relatively inflexible and stringent air pollution and other environmental regulations with infeasible timelines and unnecessarily high compliance costs.” Further, Akins continued, “In addition to high costs borne by our electricity customers, these new rules could also result in many premature plant retirements and over 1 million net jobs lost in the U.S.”

Echoing the need for new technologies in order to keep up with more stringent regulations, Mr. Stu Dalton of the Electric Power Research Institute said, “The needs of the electric power industry are evolving rapidly because of changing emission regulations and power grid system requirements. The continued alignment of RD&D efforts to reflect these latest priorities is necessary to help ensure that the nation’s coal-based power plants can continue to supply affordable electricity.”

Along these lines, Chairman Harris questioned witnesses on whether it makes sense for DOE to continue focusing $400 million exclusively on CCS, particularly in light of the need for, and potential of, advanced technologies to significantly increase coal utilization efficiency and benefit the environment.

Echoing the need for a broader suite of research activities related to coal, Ms. Janet Gellici, Chief Executive Officer for the American Coal Council said that the U.S. “faces additional energy and environmental challenges that would benefit from collaborative coal RD&D by the government and private sector.  These challenges are more immediate than CCS.”  She said that “There needs to be a greater balance between support for CCS initiatives and those for other coal RD&D projects that can advance coal generation efficiency and enhance environmental compliance.” 

When asked by Chairman Harris what DOE’s top non-CCS priority should be, Mr. Scott Klara, Deputy Director for DOE’s National Energy Technology Laboratory, said “water management is a key issue.”  DOE’s current budget request to Congress, however, proposes to eliminate water management research as well as other non-CCS activities such as particulate matter and air toxics research.  

The following witnesses testified before the Committee:

Mr. Scott Klara, Deputy Director, National Energy Technology Laboratory, Department of Energy

Ms. Janet Gellici, Chief Executive Officer, American Coal Council

Mr. Nick Akins, President, American Electric Power

Mr. David Foerter, Executive Director, Institute of Clean Air Companies

Mr. Stu Dalton, Senior Government Representative-Generation, Electric Power Research Institute