Fossil fuel companies should stop apologizing for their carbon dioxide emissions and instead receive congratulations, several speakers told a gathering of state-level U.S. lawmakers in Louisville, Ky. on Sept. 25.
While nuclear and renewable energy, battery storage and cybersecurity received some attention, much of the conference centered on supporting the use of fossil fuels, particularly coal. The meeting was hosted by the Southern States Energy Board, a nonprofit interstate compact organization of 16 southern states and territories operating under the mandate to "contribute to the economic and community well-being of the southern region."
Chris Skates, a top energy adviser to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, spent more than 30 years in the power generation sector and said he is "tired of the fossil fuel apology tour."
"I was part of emitting 270 million tonnes of CO2 and I'm damn proud," Skates said. "Because every megawatt I made went to a hospital, went to an elementary school, went to homes to keep people warm in the winter and cool in the summer."
Skates then invited friend and collaborator Cal Beisner to speak to state lawmakers on the "Economic and Social Benefits of Fossil Fuels" during the morning session. Beisner is the founder and national spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a "network of 60 Christian theologians, natural scientists, economists, and other scholars educating for Biblical earth stewardship, economic development for the poor," and other Christianity-focused priorities.
Beisner also suggested that fossil fuel companies stop apologizing for emitting carbon dioxide. Contrary to mainstream climate science that predicts catastrophic human and environmental impacts from a warming world, Beisner told state lawmakers that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was beneficial and touted coal as a solution to bringing the benefits of electricity to impoverished people.
"CO2 is the elixir of life. The world needs more of it, not less, and fossil fuel companies should stop apologizing and embracing demands for emissions reductions," Beisner said. "It never ceases to amaze me that fossil fuel companies and industries that use lots of fossil fuels post about reducing CO2 emissions. That just means pleading guilty and then begging for delayed execution. You should be posting all the benefits for nature and mankind."
Several companies, including those that mine and burn coal, have acknowledged the impacts of climate change and advertised efforts to reduce their footprint. The country's largest coal company, Peabody Energy Corp., maintains a statement on climate change that calls for advancing technology for "near-zero" emissions from coal plants. Utilities across the country are rolling out plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, in large part by retiring coal-fired power plants.
The event also featured current and past members of President Donald Trump's administration. Speaking Sept. 24, Dan Brouillette, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, told the gathering of state lawmakers that the DOE is broadly aiming to promote energy innovation and new technologies, but insisted that the future includes the use of coal and natural gas.
Brouillette expressed concern that "folks across the country, especially in Washington, D.C.," want to ban coal and natural gas. Coal plants are closing "prematurely," and at a rapid rate, he noted, adding that "we need to stop that."
"If they are allowed to succeed, if they take America from 'all of the above, including renewables,' to 'none of the above, except renewables,' they will destroy our ability to run our economy when the sun doesn't shine and when the wind doesn't work," Brouillette said.
The event also featured an appearance from former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who left the Trump administration among a flurry of ethics scandals. Pruitt was interviewed by Skates onstage but did not take questions from the audience. Pruitt warned against those who aim to eradicate the use of fossil fuels from the nation's power generation portfolio. Instead, he urged a more balanced approach that he said he sought during his time at the EPA, a tenure highly criticized by environmentalists and others on the left for a more lax approach to regulating the energy sector.
"The danger to our country today — it is a significant danger — and it's a danger to every state in the country, is that we take a different approach and the approach is prohibition," Pruitt said. "Because when we make those kinds of decisions today, 30 years from now, 40 years now, we can't go back. We won't be able to recover with what transpired between now and then and it's unnecessary."