The Trump administration may gain an ally at the United Nations for its pro-fossil fuel agenda to build cleaner coal power plants globally.
President Trump often touts his support for clean coal technology, and even though he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate change agreement, his administration still wants to use the U.N. in ways that help implement its agenda to export more U.S. energy and expertise abroad.
One of the more supportive areas is the U.N. Economic Council on Europe's Committee on Sustainable Energy, which is looking for ways to support electricity from fossil fuels through its Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels working group.
The clean electricity group looks for ways to make coal plants more efficient and push technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It is committed to keeping fossil fuels in the global energy mix, recognizing that coal and other fossil fuels make up more than half of the energy consumed in Europe alone.
Most of the U.N. group's goals would dovetail surprisingly well with Trump's agenda for coal. Energy Secretary Rick Perry talked up the administration's support for carbon capture technology last week at clean energy conferences around Washington, saying the goal is to export U.S. innovation abroad and expand the market for American coal expertise.
The administration is "aware of this effort within the [United Nations]," said Barry Worthington, chairman of the U.N. Cleaner Electricity Production working group. "I would say the Department of Energy is very engaged" with the U.N. Economic Council on Europe's sustainability committee.
Worthington is also the executive director of the U.S. Energy Association, a large umbrella group that represents the energy industry on the World Energy Council. The group serves as a bipartisan advisory organization representing 150 members across the U.S. energy sector, from large Fortune 500 companies to small energy consulting firms.
Worthington is gearing up for this month's 13th annual meeting of the Group of Experts on Cleaner Electricity Production from Fossil Fuels in Geneva.
"It's a group of experts on clean power production and we're going to make an effort in the next month, or so, to develop recommendations or criteria for consideration by financial institutions looking at financing coal and other fossil facilities," Worthington told the Washington Examiner.
The criteria will assist in getting large financial groups such as the World Bank or the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to consider coal plants in the list of power plants it will support, Worthington said. The World Bank has had a bias against coal plants at the Obama administration's insistence, which the Trump administration has been trying to reverse.
Worthington said it's "one thing to reverse a policy and say we'll finance coal plants, but then you reject the first dozen that you see." The standards will help to demonstrate how the technology is cleaner and more efficient than past coal plants.
"We would try to develop some sort of rational criteria that financial institutions can use because there is just so many different circumstances," he said. "If you were in Europe, for example, looking at replacing an existing coal plant with a new coal plant you might be looking at one set of circumstances. If you are a developing country, and you're going to electrify an area that hadn't been electrified at all, there may be different performance levels that you want to use," Worthington said.
"For example, you may have an efficiency criteria, you may want to have a certain efficiency rating, you may want to have an emissions limit, you may want to have a criteria that relates to water," he said.
That is an area where the Department of Energy could assist. The department "has the expertise that's needed to understand from a technical standpoint what kinds of things you want to have a criteria for," Worthington added.
The Trump administration announced in July that it was changing the rules for financing energy projects worldwide, reversing the Obama administration's restrictions on fossil fuel projects under the World Bank and other global investment institutions.
The Treasury Department in its guidance said the U.S. would "promote universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy, help countries access and use fossil fuels more cleanly and efficiently, and help deploy renewable and other clean energy sources."
It also called for the U.S. representatives of the World Bank and other multinational financial institutions to vote for projects that "support development of robust, efficient, competitive and integrated global markets for energy."
The guidance eliminated the "anti-coal guidance issued under the previous administration," according to Luke Popovich, vice president for external communications at the National Mining Association. "NMA wholeheartedly approves of this since the previous Obama-era guidance called for an end to virtually all U.S. support for overseas coal financing," he said.
"This is a complete turnaround from the previous guidance that precluded U.S. support for overseas coal financing and implemented a key section of former President Obama's Climate Action Plan," Popovich said in a statement to the Washington Examiner.
Worthington said the Trump administration is also making U.S. agencies that handle overseas energy investments more supportive of coal, including the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Export-Import Bank, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, and others.
"Then at the same time, the United States would use our role in the international finance institutions to cause them to also reverse their ban, or prohibition, or bias, against financing coal plants," he said. "That would be the World Bank, the whole World Bank Group, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the African Development Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, and so forth."
The Asian Development Bank "never developed an anti-coal, anti-fossil policy. They continue to finance coal plants," Worthington pointed out. The U.S. and China will hold a joint clean coal meeting in West Virginia in November to share notes on carbon capture and other clean coal technologies that both countries have been funding for years.
The Trump administration also wants to use its standing in the U.N.'s Green Climate Fund, since the Obama administration sent $1 billion to the fund before Trump announced June 1 the U.S. would withdraw. The fund is meant to collect money from large developed nations to help fund projects in poorer nations affected by global warming.
Many scientists blame fossil fuels for changing the temperature of the Earth, resulting in potentially catastrophic consequences such as ocean acidification and more severe drought.
Environmentalists issued a report last week that said the fund's independence to carry out its climate directive is being threatened by its closer ties with the World Bank and other large multinational financial institutions. The group said the green fund is beginning to slip from its targets to support climate adaptation strategies by relying on the big banks for moving money to projects.