By Morgan Phillips
November 10, 2021 - US climate envoy John Kerry boldly predicted Tuesday that the US will not rely on coal for power at all nine years from now.
'By 2030 in the United States, we won't have coal,' Kerry said in an interview with Bloomberg at the United Nation's COP26 climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
'We will not have coal plants,' he said.
The US has been trending away from coal as a fuel source in recent years, in favor of cheaper forms of power such as natural gas, wind and solar, but still relies on the fossil fuel for roughly a fifth of its electricity. The share of US electricity generation from coal is expected to rise from 20% in 2020 to 23% in 2021 due to higher expected natural gas prices, according to the Energy Department's data agency.
Many of the nation's largest energy companies do not have plans to phase out emissions from fossil fuels until 2050, though President Biden has a plan to make the US power grid carbon-free by 2035.
'We're saying we are going to be carbon free in the power sector by 2035,' Kerry said. 'I think that's leadership. I think that's indicative of what we can do.'
'Over 500 coal plants in the US have shut in the last few years, another 58 are going to shut this year,' the climate envoy said.
Over 40 nations pledged at the COP26 last week to phase out coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but the US did not sign the pledge. Neither did China or India, which burn two-thirds of the world's coal, or Australia, a major coal exporter.
Any major policy hindering the coal industry could be sunk by moderate Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin, whose state of West Virginia is a major coal producer and is reliant on coal-fired power. Manchin previously killed a Democratic plan to pay energy companies to generate clean electricity and move away from fossil fuels, as he's claimed companies are trending that way on their own.
The US had been in talks to potentially sign the pledge to phase out coal, with officials arguing to include an exception for coal plants that have the technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. That provision was ultimately left out and the White House decided against signing the pledge for fear of angering Manchin, according to the New York Times.
No coal plants with carbon capture capacity are currently in operation, and it remains an expensive undertaking.
The US did sign an agreement committing to ending financing for 'unabated' coal, oil and gas abroad by the end of next year. Unabated refers to power plants that take no steps to capture its emissions, and instead just release pollution directly into the air.
Earlier this year, Kerry suggested that coal miners worried about their livelihood would be able to find work in the clean energy industry, as he noted that the two fastest-growing jobs in the country before the Covid pandemic were solar panel technicians and wind turbine technicians.
'You look at the consequences of black lung for a miner, for instance, and measure that against the fastest-growing job in the United States before Covid was solar power technician. The same people can do those jobs, but the choice of doing the solar power one now is a better choice,' Kerry said in a press conference.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts wind turbine technician will be the fastest-growing occupation between 2019 and 2029, nurse practitioner will be second, and solar photovoltaic installer will be third. The BLS found similar findings in 2017.