Coal debate firing up in Congress

Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky believes that the Obama administration’s objections to coal is hurting struggling economies. Photo by: Jay Mallin / House Assistance Council / CC BY

One legislator in the new U.S. Congress is pushing coal politics beyond the water’s edge, all the way to the buried reserves of conflict-stricken countries like Pakistan and Ukraine.

Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky — speaking at a hearing by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs last week — leveled the critique at Secretary of State John Kerry, noting that the administration’s anti-coal policy is hurting struggling economies both at home and abroad.

“Coal exports are the one bright spot for the thousands of mining families who are facing disastrous economic conditions in my district,” Rogers said in his opening statement, “and yet administration officials will not promote coal as part of its Power Africa initiative.”

Rogers went on to point out that the Obama administration’s objections to coal would not keep developing countries from using the resource. Instead, he warned that development economies “ripe for investment” will “turn to the Chinese for financing” if the U.S. withholds its support.

“The projects they will fund will be dirtier than if American companies were involved,” Rogers said, echoing a standard defense for U.S. financing and support of coal projects overseas, adding that the Obama administration’s policies on coal are also “anti-American jobs.”

President Barack Obama called in 2013 for an end to public financing of coal power overseas unless projects employ carbon capture and sequestration technologies, or unless nations lack more efficient means of generating power.

Rogers also suggested the Obama administration is encouraging the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to clamp down on public financing of coal plants, and that the administration is trying to ban OECD funding of coal production overseas.

“This plan could preclude funding for highly efficient coal plant investments in Pakistan,” he said.

The congressman appealed to homeland security concerns, raising alarms that without access to “affordable and reliable electricity,” Pakistan’s stability and partnership with the U.S. in the fight against terror could suffer.

Rogers also hinted that an energy project in Ukraine recently lost support from the Overseas Private Investment Corp., a U.S. agency that extends financing and risk mitigation tools for development projects, due to the administration’s policies. Rogers’ office however did not respond to questions from Devex about which project he meant.

Should the U.S. continue funding coal projects in energy-starved developing countries? Join the debate by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.