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Joe Manchin, Cecil Roberts talk clean coal, coal jobs with National Press Club

MORGANTOWN – Sen Joe Manchin and United Mine Workers of America President Cecil Roberts teamed up on Monday to promote coal jobs and clean coal technology.

They took part in a National Press Club Virtual Headliners conversation called “Energy transition and the next steps for coal country.”

Sen. Joe Manchin; file photo.

National Press Club President Lisa Nicole Matthews opened the conversation by noting that coal consumption peaked in 2007 while mine employment has dropped precipitously since 2011 – from nearly 92,000 to just 44,100.

Roberts added that the global economic downturn caused by the pandemic led to 7,000 lost jobs in 2020; only 34,000 of the jobs are hourly, the rest are management, foremen, office staff and such. But he hopes to see those jobs return.

Manchin said continued funding for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) research is essential to maintaining jobs while reducing emissions.

At the same time, he said, it’s important to bring industries back to the U.S. to provide jobs, especially for miners who’ve lost their jobs. His American Jobs in Energy Manufacturing Act aims to do that by investing $8 billion – in the form of tax credits – for manufacturers and other industrial users to retool, expand, or build new facilities that make or recycle energy-related products; and build new or retrofit existing manufacturing and industrial facilities to produce or recycle energy products.

UMWA President Cecil Roberts; file photo

The bill includes a $4 billion carve out for communities where coal mines have closed or coal power plants have retired.

Manchin said he’s also signed on to back President Biden’s PRO Act, which would promote union organizing and block right to work laws.

Roberts said the UMWA has a three-part transition initiative, spelled out on the UMWA website. First is preserving UMWA jobs through enhancing CCUS research and development to achieve a utility-scale demonstration plant by 2030. Along with that would come building out CCUS infrastructure and providing a five-year zero-carbon mandate waiver for utility units committed to installing CCUS.

Second is creating new, good-paying jobs through tax incentives for renewable supply-chain manufacturing in coalfield areas, pass the PRO Act and fully fund Abandoned Mine Lands reclamation projects. And start making steel in the U.S. again. AML funding is set to expire in September.

Third is preserving UMWA families and communities through such things as wage replacement for dislocated miners, a national job training program, direct grants to coal communities and schools to replace lost tax revenue and targeted infrastructure rehabilitation.

Roberts pointed out some flaws in the current move toward green technology: two-thirds of wind turbines are made in China; two-thirds of the material for solar power is made in China; China is investing heavily in CCUS research. “Someone’s going to develop this technology and it ought to be the United States of America.”

Biden’s plan, to eliminate fossil fuels, will cause additional harm by crushing the natural gas industry where thousands of people, many of them former miners, are working the pipelines. Instead, pursuing CCUS will preserve both resources.

Manchin and Roberts both oppose a carbon tax. Manchin said it will hurt consumers and accomplish nothing. There are 667 coal-fired power plants being built around world, none in the U.S. There are 5,286 working coal-fired plants in the world, just 504 in the U.S.

“If you think that you can stick your head in the sand and say, ‘I’m going to eliminate all coal-fired plants, shut ’em down, it’ll clean up the environment,’ you’d better start looking at what’s happening in the world.

Roberts said a carbon tax would wipe out any need for CCUS research by placing a heavy penalty on fossil fuels, making them uncompetitive.

Commenting further on the Biden clean energy standard, Manchin said a plan that doesn’t recognize the need for clean fossil fuel may as well surrender any hope of clean climate technology.

“You better come to the realization,” he said, “this is the only country that will find a solution through innovation that produces new technology. The rest of them don’t have a desire to do it, we do.” By leveraging our trading policies we can produce demand for our technological advances in other countries.

Responsible resourcing should be put into every manufacturer’s plan, Manchin said. We can move toward green energy and continue to use coal more cleanly than ever before. “But we can’t do it by sticking our head in the sand and eliminating it.”

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