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Trump appointee calls for more robust policies promoting carbon capture research

Supportive government policy can help with the development of carbon capture, use and storage technology, according to a Trump appointee in the U.S. Department of Energy.

"These technologies when coupled with supportive policies can significantly reduce carbon emissions from traditional fossil fuels," Steven Winberg said Nov. 28 at an event on the status of carbon capture in 2017 hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Winberg was confirmed by a U.S. Senate vote Nov. 2 as assistant secretary of energy for fossil energy.

More robust research and development policies for carbon capture, use and storage, or CCUS, technology will drive the cost down and help support the development of supply chains, commercial infrastructure and private investment, he said.

Encouraging energy exports benefits U.S. allies around the world, Winberg said, and carbon capture technology development will help with this mission.

"Technology-enabled solutions will allow us to balance and obtain all of these goals," he said, calling energy independence and environmental stewardship "not mutually exclusive."

In response to questions about whether the Trump administration is actually committed to developing carbon capture technology, since its budget proposal for the 2018 fiscal year slashed clean coal investment, Winberg said President Donald Trump has made it very clear that he wants the DOE to be focused on early stage research.

"A lot of basic research has to be done to bring the cost of carbon capture down," he said, adding that Congress sets the budget and that his office will manage it accordingly.

He said that if the U.S. is going down the road of reducing carbon emissions, it will need CCUS technology.

"We are not going to stop using fossil fuels anytime soon," he said, and argued that support for carbon capture technology is not a subsidy for the fossil fuel industry but the opposite. "CCUS should receive equal treatment with other clean energy technologies as part of a robust suite of low-emission energy solutions."

Samantha McCulloch, an energy analyst with the International Energy Agency, which recently released its 2017 World Energy Outlook, said that globally, coal capacity is still increasing.

"More than half of the generators currently in operation were added since 2000," she said, and many of the new plants could still be operating through the middle of the century.

CCUS is a really important solution to avoid the emissions from these facilities while protecting the investments that were made, she said.

Eric Redman, CEO of Thunderbolt Clean Energy, said at the event that regardless of whether the government is concerned about climate change, the realities of getting new coal plants financed and permitted in today's regulatory and financial environment mean that carbon emissions will have to be mitigated in some way.

"Let's not despair completely on the Trump administration," Redman said, adding he was not a fan of the administration. "We can continue to move forward on carbon capture without necessarily agreeing on the reason for which it should be done."