Political strategies

The conflict in Russia highlights the need for better decarbonization strategies

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted Americans to see our energy choices in a new light. A secure energy future for America and its allies has always been essential, but its specific demands were easy to ignore. Today, Russia’s actions have forced deeper reflection on both our goals and how we are going about achieving them.

Many people say the time has come for an energy revolution. We couldn’t agree more. Clean, safe, reliable, abundant and affordable home energy is essential to America’s security. But what does it require? How can we get there?

Geographic, economic, technological and political realities all lead to one conclusion: A Practical Clean Energy Future must be based on a foundation of proven and commercially competitive technologies to everything fuels. If each source of energy has its champions and its detractors, it is necessary to appeal to all energy resource that America and its allies possess and use it in an environmentally and socially responsible manner.

Keeping America’s Abundant Fossil Fuels On The Grid While Providing Necessary Policy support for decarbonization is more critical now than ever as we face simultaneous economic, climate and energy security challenges. Advanced carbon capture technologies can make the vast US market fossil resources a basis for clean energy security in the United States and around the world. These technologies are enjoying growing support in Congress as well as in the Biden administration.

Some have argued that now is the time to move to a purely renewable energy system, with the sun and wind being “domestic” energy resources. But the technologies (and critical minerals) needed to capture these resources (solar panels, wind turbines and batteries) are generally not produced domestically. Going all-renewable would mean trade dependence on Russian gas for batteries made in China and solar panels. Make them in America and further develop the natural resources they need, will take time, investment and new policies. We should definitely produce many more critical minerals in the United States and using more renewable energy, but that should only be part of a national energy security strategy, not the whole thing.

There is a better way forward. Clean, firm energy, available at the flick of a switch, is essential for affordable decarbonization. Advanced carbon capture technologies made in the United States could allow allies such as Japan, South Koreaand a crowd of european nations replace Russian gas with US zero-emission coal.

Everyone wants a clean and secure energy future for America, but the legislative magic needed to make it happen has been elusive. We cannot let this continue. As we see clearly in Europe today, it takes years and billions of dollars of investment to bring about major changes to energy systems. If we are to secure America’s energy future, we need a sustainable federal framework now to guide the massive public and private investments that will be needed in the decades to come. We need energy policies that can endure beyond the next election cycle, court ruling or conflict abroad.

The way to do this is through practical, bipartisan legislation that unites us in a national effort to generate clean energy from all national resources. Americans have a common interest in getting it right, and we shouldn’t let zero-sum politics get in the way. Pragmatic proposals exist today, such as a bipartisan bill in the House of Representatives co-authored by two senior members of the Energy and Commerce Committee, David McKinley (RW.Va.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.), which provides the framework we need to make advance our energy program.

The bipartisan McKinley-Schrader Bill would ensure that we eliminate virtually all air emissions from US power plants, while keeping the lights on, electric bills low, and US miners and power sector unions on the job. This would end the perpetual partisan fight over fuels and ensure that we use all clean national resources – wind and solar, coal and gas, nuclear and advanced existing reactors. Other members of Congress have sponsored similar proposals, giving reason to hope that support for the McKinley-Schrader framework might grow.

Advanced carbon capture technologies are ready to be widely used. With the right federal support, America could replace its old coal-fired power plants with a new fleet of zero-emission coal and gas plants that would become the backbone of affordable, reliable, and clean home energy in the future.

For 30 years, climate policy has been framed in zero-sum terms, unnecessarily pitting environmental interests against energy security and reliability. Building a clean and secure energy supply system for America and its allies can be done. It requires moving beyond yesterday’s arguments and working together for our own good. It is a cause that should unite all Americans.

The United Mineworkers are ready to pitch in if Congress does its part.

Cecil Roberts is president of the United Mineworkers of America.