A coalition of major coal companies is pressing President Trump ahead of his meeting with the Chinese president this week not to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement, arguing that doing so could erode a major growth market for U.S. coal.
"The future is foreign markets, so the last thing you want to do if you are a coal company is to give up a U.S. seat in the international climate discussions and let the Europeans control the agenda," a U.S. official familiar with the discussions told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.
The 2015 Paris Agreement, agreed to under the United Nations climate change framework, is expected to be part of this week's talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, along with trade, North Korea and other national security concerns. China is expected to become the de facto leader of the Paris deal if Trump pulls out of the agreement.
"They can't afford for the most powerful advocate for fossil fuels to be away from the table," the official said. The White House said last week that it will make a decision on whether or not to leave the agreement by the end of May.
The coalition, which includes major coal producers Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy, has been telling the White House over the past few weeks that pulling out of the deal would be the wrong direction and not good for the industry.
Peabody is the world's largest privately owned coal company, which just recently emerged from a nearly year-long bankruptcy proceeding. It re-emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by making a fresh debut on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday, signaling that it's back to business. The Wyoming-based Cloud Peak is one of largest producers of low-sulfur coal in the western United States. Its stock value has taken a hit since November, but it has managed to stay clear of bankruptcy.
A Cloud Peak official said remaining in the Paris agreement would help the industry reach "a more balanced, reasonable and appropriate path forward" for low-emission, clean coal technologies among those countries that signed onto the climate accord.
The Paris agreement included nearly 200 signatories to the non-binding, yet significant, deal to agree to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The GOP has opposed the U.S. role in the deal because it supports a series of former President Barack Obama's climate change regulations that they argue will drive up energy costs.
The companies want to increase support among the countries for developing carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technologies, which would keep coal in the mix as countries reduce their carbon emissions over the next decade.
Benjamin Sporton, the head of the World Coal Association, was in Washington recently to discuss advancements for clean coal technology with congressional staffers.
He was also in the U.S. as part of an International Energy Agency industry advisory team meeting with coal companies to get a sense of where they are on technology development, he said.
"For me it's a continuum," Sporton said. "It's not saying let's leap to CCS today, because CCS is not a technology that is viable for widescale deployment today. It's about saying how we start on that pathway to get to somewhere further down the track."