Senate Committee Discusses National, International Future of Coal

by Erica Peterson on January 31, 2012

Top energy officials say coal is still a key player in the global energy market—and will continue to be for awhile. The U.S. Senate’s Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing today to discuss the nation’s and world’s energy outlook.

The hearing was called to discuss the Energy Information Administration’s annual energy outlook, which was released last week. Senators seemed primarily interested in discussing oil and natural gas, which were highlighted as major growth areas for the United States. But coal got a mention, as well.

In the report, the EIA didn’t project a very rosy outlook for coal in the U.S. Analysts predicted the fuel would make up 39 percent of the nation’s energy share in 2035, down from nearly 50 percent in 2007.

But during the committee hearing, Wyoming Senator John Barrasso asked about coal’s role on the world stage.

“The report says that for all the talk about natural gas and renewables, coal, it says, unquestionably won the energy race in the first decade of the twenty-first century,” he said. “It explains that globally, coal is the most important fuel after oil.”

Ambassador Richard Jones of the International Energy Agency told the committee that coal accounted for half of the world’s growth and energy, largely due to its widespread use in China and India. But:

“At the same time, China in particular has been wrestling with the growing pollution in its cities from these coal-fired power plants,” Jones said. “And as a result, China is eagerly looking for alternatives. They are looking at renewables and they are looking at natural gas.”

Jones added that economics still play a factor, and because coal is such a cheap competitor it still has a bright future in the global energy mix.

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