After months of touting his affinity for so-called “clean” coal, Donald Trump left observers wondering whether he really understands the concept, after he name-checked the technology during a rambling speech to a campaign-style rally in Phoenix earlier this week.
The apparent gaffe prompted a mini-revival for one of the most frequent memes from the popular children’s film, The Princess Bride. “You keep using that word,” one of the characters says to another, in one of the more memorable moments in the story. “I do not think it means what you think it means.”
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In the midst of a speech that for many observers ranged from meandering to unhinged to “downright scary”, one of the less-noticed moments was Trump’s boast that “we’ve ended the war on beautiful, clean coal, and it’s just been announced that a second, brand new coal mine, where they’re going to take out clean coal—meaning, they’re taking out coal. They’re going to clean it—is opening in the state of Pennsylvania, the second one.”
The Washington Post calls that “one of the more perplexing comments during the often off-message rally”, adding that “although Trump has positioned himself as an advocate of the fledgling technology, it’s unclear whether he really understands the basics of it.” Trump’s comment “suggests the carbon is somehow captured before the coal is burned—which is definitely not the case.” As Matt Lucas of the non-profit Center for Carbon Removal told the Post in an email, “‘clean coal’ refers to capturing the carbon dioxide after the coal is burned.”
The paper adds that Trump “may have been referring to another pollution reduction practice called ‘coal washing,’ where soil and rock is washed away from mined coal before being burned. But that is not the same as carbon capture and storage.”
While fossil industries and some U.S. senators support that technology, “some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, argue that no coal-burning technology can be called ‘clean’ given the levels of soot and other traditional pollutants such plants emit relative to nuclear, wind, solar, and even natural gas-fired power plants,” writes reporter Dino Grandoni.
Moreover, the Bismarck Tribune notes, “some researchers say that even carbon capture won’t make coal ‘clean.’ That’s because the gas that’s removed during coal-fired power generation can be pumped underground to increase the amount of crude oil extracted from aging reserves.” (Or from tar sands/oil sands operations in Canada.) “Critics say the greenhouse gases resulting from increased oil production would offset any gains made at the coal plants.”
The Post and other news outlets note that Trump’s budgetary moves haven’t matched up with his rhetorical support for CCS development. “In May, the White House proposed slashing the budget of the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy, which backs carbon capture research, and eliminating a loan program for companies developing carbon capture and other innovative energy technologies, arguing that ‘the private sector is better positioned to finance innovative technologies,’” Grandoni writes.
“There’s a big gulf between the president’s words and the actions of the administration on support for carbon capture,” said Dan Reicher, executive director of the Stanford University-based Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance.
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