Trump’s plan to cut fossil-fuel funding shows he has no interest in keeping his promises to the coal industry

Wasted vote.
Wasted vote.
Image: Reuters/Kacper Pempel
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US president Donald Trump won votes in coal country, because he promised to bring back jobs. His 2018 draft budget for the energy department, obtained by Axios, shows he has no plans to keep those commitments.

The office of fossil energy, within the department of energy, provides funding support for the “clean coal” projects that Trump widely touted during his presidential campaign. These “clean” efforts typically involve capturing the emissions that come from burning coal and burying them deep underground, thus ridding the fossil fuel of its “dirtiest” aspect. The technology, called carbon capture and storage (CCS), has been in commercial use since the 1970s, but requires government help to scale up.

The deep budget cuts proposed by Trump’s team would almost certainly crush any hope for the further development of the technology in the US. Each of the successful carbon-capture projects currently in operation have received some form of government support. For instance, Petra Nova in Texas, which at full scale will capture 1.4 million metric tons of net carbon dioxide emissions from a 240 MW coal power plant each year, received nearly $200 million from the energy department to make the project economically feasible.

“[The budget proposal] is not good news for carbon capture,” says Jeff Erikson of the Global CCS Institute. “But there’s no reason to panic.” He believes that other policy proposals, such as tax credits and infrastructure spending, which are under consideration or in the planning stage, may make up for the energy department cuts.

Of course, this may not actually come to pass; previous Trump draft budgets have been thrown out by congress, where fossil-energy funding has enjoyed bipartisan support. Still, the fact that Trump is even proposing such large cuts shows he is not interested in delivering on his promise to the coal industry.

The draft budget also has cuts for other parts of the department, including nuclear energy, renewable power, energy efficiency, and transportation. Many of these were expected, but the hope was that cuts won’t be this deep. When summed up, the draft budget for all these is less than half of the money for the 2017 fiscal year.

“Money for the energy department is not spending, it’s an investment,” Erikson says. “Industry has seen repeatedly that the department’s support is crucial for technology development.” The cuts, then, don’t seem like much of an “America First” move.