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Cloud Peak CEO lays out climate policy priorities in letter to Trump

Cloud Peak Energy Inc. CEO Colin Marshall urged President Donald Trump to embrace the issue of climate change in a letter outlining the company's legislative priorities in support of lower-emissions technology and adjusting to a new energy landscape.

"As a coal producer, we do not want to ignore the two-thirds of Americans who believe that climate change is happening and that CO2 emissions play a role," Marshall said. "However, these concerns cannot be allowed to condemn this country, and the world, to energy poverty and economic malaise."

Instead of pushing back on the issue of climate change, Marshall called on Trump to embrace and support technology intended to allow the continued use of coal for electricity generation while lowering emissions.

"Technology currently exists that can address climate concerns while allowing us to benefit from reliable, abundant natural resources like coal," Marshall wrote, calling on the president to push for congressional action so that "this technology can be commercialized and deployed on a large scale."

Specifically, Marshall called for supporting 45Q tax credits for carbon capture and enhanced oil recovery, creating "private activity bonds" to help finance these efforts and extending the tax and equity benefits of master limited partnerships to carbon capture and sequestration, or CCS, work.

Marshall also called for further action from the U.S. Department of Energy in support of emissions-lowering technology.

These efforts, Marshall said, are necessary to help U.S. coal adjust to a new energy landscape that could prove challenging for producers regardless of what actions are taken by the administration to roll back Obama-era regulations.

Marshall praised the president's recent energy executive orders, but warned that they may not be enough to reverse the country's move away from coal.

"We still need your help," Marshall wrote. "Critically, I am not aware of any utilities who have announced they are changing their coal plant closure plans since your election."

While Trump voiced his strong support for the coal industry throughout the election and since taking office in January, Marshall could face challenges in securing the kind of support he outlined in the letter.

In his initial budget proposal, Trump called for cuts to DOE energy research, which CCS could use in the years ahead to ensure commercial viability. CCS technology has suffered from minimal support from the public and private sectors in recent years due to significant initial costs and a lack of viable success stories to justify further investment.

However, Cloud Peak could see some support from Congress, where bipartisan bills related to private activity bonds have been introduced in both the House and Senate over the last week.

Sticking with Paris

Marshall's letter also continued Cloud Peak's effort to forge a new path for U.S. producers as advocates for emissions-lowering efforts as a means of shaping the climate debate.

"U.S. leadership could take the world into a new era of global economic prosperity that also addresses concerns about climate and emissions," he wrote. "That leadership requires engagement."

The appeal to Trump also reiterated the company's push for the U.S. to remain in the Paris climate agreement, earning it scorn from some other U.S. coal producers.

"This [Paris] agreement is an absolute fraud and an attempt by developing countries to solicit welfare from the United States taxpayers," said Murray Energy Corp. spokesman Gary Broadbent. "Those coal companies advocating to remain in the Paris Climate Accord are doing so for reasons other than the welfare of the American coal industry and our miners. Further, they are squandering the one opportunity we have to ensure reliable low-cost electricity in America and the world."

Beyond Paris, Marshall also called on Trump to engage the United Nations, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the World Bank to promote CCS technology abroad.

Cloud Peak has reportedly joined Arch Coal Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp. in calling for the administration to remain in the Paris agreement, while U.S. producers like Murray Energy have argued that Trump should leave the accord entirely.

Murray has also offered sharp criticism for CCS technology as relief for U.S. coal. Company CEO Robert Murray called CCS a "pseudonym for no coal," arguing that it does not work, potentially complicating Marshall's appeal to Trump.

Murray was a vocal backer of Trump during the presidential campaign, donating $100,000 in support of his bid, and has been present at the signing of executive orders that reversed the Obama regulations most often cited by industry advocates as detrimental to U.S. coal.