Most of the people in the room when the United States gave its sole presentation last week at COP23 — the United Nations climate negotiations in Bonn, Germany — were protesters. Around the 20-minute mark, 100 people — mostly Americans — stood up, sang an altered version of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” turned their backs to the panel of White House officials and fossil fuel industry representatives, and walked out. The event then continued before a room filled mainly with journalists.
Panelists soldiered on, peddling one of the Trump administration’s favorite lies: clean coal, or what Trump himself loves to call “beautiful, clean coal.”
Last week was the first time administration officials and their chosen partners — natural gas, coal, and nuclear companies — expounded at length on their strategy on energy both in the United States and around the world, promoting a global vision for continued coal production along with a scale-up in nuclear and natural gas. That the presentation revolved so heavily around so-called clean coal technology — one form of carbon capture and storage, CCS for short, in some iterations — shouldn’t come as a surprise. The phrase has been one of President Donald Trump’s go-to talking points since early on in the campaign trail. At a rally in Phoenix this summer, he announced that, “We’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal … They’re going to take out clean coal — meaning, they’re taking out coal. They’re going to clean it.”
Holly Krutka, a representative from Peabody Energy who spoke on the U.S. panel, offered her own explanation of what clean coal is. While she spoke in lucid and complete sentences, walking through the various efficiency technologies, she was no more tethered to reality than Trump. Like the White House’s own proxies, she framed continued coal usage as a moral and ethical imperative and a vehicle for bringing developing nations out of poverty: “While some people clearly believe there is no path forward for fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained world, we don’t believe that is the case. The discussion needs to be not if we use coal, but how.”