Ex-EPA Head: Gas, Renewable Trends Don’t Hinge on Election

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By Dean Scott

Sept. 23 — Broad regulatory and investment trends that favor natural gas and renewable energy and are driving down U.S. carbon emissions are likely to endure—no matter who is elected the next president Nov. 8, a former acting head of the Environmental Protection Agency said Sept. 23.

“First, the price of natural gas is not going to go up under any administration, and it will continue to displace coal generation in the United States,” Bob Perciasepe, the former acting administrator, said at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Sacramento. “That trend will continue no matter who is president, and that downward trend or pressure on emissions from the power sector [also] will continue” unabated, he said.

Congress essentially has locked in production and investment tax credits for renewable energy—for four or six more years, depending on whether it is a solar or wind project—"and that’s not going to go way unless Congress overturns itself” by rolling back the incentives it put in place in a December 2015 funding extension, said Perciasepe, now president of the Center for Climate & Energy Solutions.

“But those trends are going to continue to stimulate renewable energy regardless” of whether Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump wins on Nov. 8, he said. “If a new president does nothing, those trends are going to be out there,” Perciasepe said.

Coal Still Has Role

James Connaughton, who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality for President George W. Bush, cautioned that the declining use of coal in the U.S. won’t necessarily translate into reduced use of coal in developing nations, which could cancel out any progress in cutting global greenhouse emissions.

In the U.S., coal accounted for only one-third of U.S. electricity production in 2015, which is now even with the portion generated by natural gas, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“More energy including coal being used around the world is poverty eradication,” said Connaughton, now president and chief executive officer for Nautilus Data Technologies. Coal should be mined “in an appropriately regulated way” and should be used “in a way that meets our emission objectives” in the U.S. to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, he said.

“However, it’s a largely symbolic” decline in coal use “when it comes to tackling climate change” around the world, Connaughton said, because countries such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa ultimately may need more coal-fired power plants to meet rising electricity demand.

“We shouldn’t be constraining the flow of coal to poor people who might take advantage of it while” richer developed nations take the lead in cutting their emissions, he said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

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