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BREAKTHROUGH TECH FOR TURNING CARBON POLLUTION INTO COAL COULD PRODUCE THE FUEL OF THE FUTURE: Scientists announced a potential breakthrough last week: A method for turning coal plant pollution into a new fuel itself for producing electricity and powering cars and trucks.

The new findings, published in the scientific journal Nature Communications, laid out a new, lower-cost method to literally suck carbon dioxide — blamed for global warming — directly out of the air and sequester it as a solid, coal-like substance. The study was performed by the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

Carbon capture technology was identified by the United Nations in its latest climate research as necessary to reverse the effects of manmade global warming. But the technology is only in the beginning stages of being tested and made commercially viable.

The process sketched out the Nature Communications paper is intriguingly different from other similar technologies, referred to generally as “direct air capture.” The scientists claim to be able to suck CO2 out of the atmosphere and collect it as a coal-like substance, which can then be turned into a type of synthetic fuel for vehicles, or even be used as a type of capacitor that could provide an alternative source for electricity storage for future vehicles.

But the synthetic coal could also be burned to generate electricity, Michael Dickey, the one U.S. scientist on the study, told John. “Yes, the carbon (the ‘coal-like substance’) could be used to produce electricity by burning it,” he said in an email.

That would create a “type of loop” in which the synthetic coal is burned to make electricity, and then the emissions are sucked back into the system to make more fuel for a power plant. Dickey said on the surface, it would appear to be a closed-loop fuel system to produce zero-carbon electricity from coal, but there is one catch — the system that sucks the CO2 out of the air requires a lot of electricity itself.

The term for that snag is “parasitic load,” meaning the amount of electricity that a power plant has to produce just to capture a pollutant, rather than send to the grid to power homes. In general, it is a problem that makes capturing carbon from power plants costly, and one of the challenges in making the technology commercial.

That’s why scientists are looking to capture emissions directly out of the air, like the scientists in Melbourne are looking to do. That goal, of course, raises the question of what to do with the carbon substance that is created as a result. Making the captured carbon into a fuel source would go a long way in offsetting the costs of capturing the emissions out of the air.

Dickey explained that the pure carbon-based coal that the technology creates would be a truly cleaner-form of coal, at least in principle.  

“In principle, it should make coal cleaner in the sense that coal has impurities (like mercury), which would not be present in this process,” he said.

Yale University’s environmental research blog says the new technique solves a big problem when in comes to making carbon capture safer. Many techniques want to bury the substance underground as a liquid, but then there is the problem of potential leaks, which would be dangerous. Storing carbon as coal would solve that problem.

Welcome to Daily on Energy, written by Washington Examiner Energy and Environment Writers John Siciliano (@JohnDSiciliano) and Josh Siegel (@SiegelScribe). Email dailyonenergy@washingtonexaminer.com for tips, suggestions, calendar items and anything else. If a friend sent this to you and you’d like to sign up, click here. If signing up doesn’t work, shoot us an email and we’ll add you to our list.  

REPUBLICANS SEEK TO COUNTER GREEN NEW DEAL WITH NEW CAUCUS: Republicans launched a new caucus Friday to represent a free-market alternative to the progressive "Green New Deal."

The bicameral Roosevelt Conservation Caucus, introduced at the Conservative Political Action Conference, will focus on Republican values of conservation and environmental protection. It will address and "counteract centralized big government solutions" with market-based solutions to environmental issues, according to a letter sent earlier this week announcing the caucus to members of Congress obtained by John.

Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Cory Gardner of Colorado founded the caucus in the upper chamber, while Reps. Elise Stefanik of New York and Brian Mast of Florida will lead the caucus in the lower chamber.

Although the idea of the caucus predates the Democratic announcement of the Green New Deal, it underscores the GOP's belief in a "free market and American innovation as compared to the Green New Deal,” a Senate GOP aide said.

Climate change — it just won’t go there: The caucus will not focus on climate change, as the Green New Deal does, but instead will be concerned with returning to the conservation and environmental stewardship principles of Theodore Roosevelt. That would mean focusing on public lands issues such as conserving wildlife and ensuring against environmental degradation of rivers, streams, and animal habitats.

But the letter also references "energy independence," a nod to oil and natural gas exports, as well as keeping U.S. leadership in the area of advanced technologies and renewable energy.

Read more from John’s coverage here.

JAY INSLEE FACES DAUNTING CHALLENGE TO ‘GET AMERICANS EXCITED’ ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee launched a 2020 run for president Friday making a bet untested in American politics: that a single-issue platform of fighting climate change can win.

While polls show Americans of both parties acknowledge climate change and increasingly worry that it is driving extreme weather events, political and polling experts say most voters aren’t ready to cast their vote based on climate change politics.

“He has picked one of most difficult public policies issues to focus on,” said Travis N. Ridout, a professor of government and public policy at Washington State University who studies political ads and has closely watched Inslee’s career. “It's really hard to get Americans excited about climate change,” Ridout told Josh.

Concerned, but not more than other issues: Climate change ranked behind the economy, healthcare, terrorism, and immigration as an issue people consider to be “extremely important," according to a January poll of 1,202 adults conducted by the Associated Press and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago.

Even just among Democrats, climate change is not necessarily a dominant issue. Democrat voters prioritize it after healthcare, women's rights, guns, and inequality, according to Gallup polling.

“What that tells you is people are seeing what goes around them with climate change, and it has an affect on them,” Sam Ori, executive director of the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago, who helped conduct the AP-University of Chicago survey, told Josh. “But it’s a mistake to extrapolate that to say climate change is an important issue to people. It’s not the same thing.”

Read more of Josh’s report here.

JOHN HICKENLOOPER BRINGS CENTRIST ENVIRONMENTAL RECORD TO 2020 RACE: Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper became the latest Democrat to enter the 2020 presidential race Monday, offering a more centrist environmental approach than most of his competitors.

Hickenlooper, governor from 2011 to earlier this year, oversaw an oil and gas boom in Colorado, with it becoming one of America’s top producing states. He opposed a controversial ballot measure that failed in November which would have curbed fracking in the state.

The measure proposed to ban new oil and gas drilling within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, and “vulnerable areas” such as playgrounds, to respond to complaints from communities close to fracking who say wells are increasingly encroaching on populated areas.

Working with industry to clean up its act: Hickenlooper, however, is also credited with implementing the nation’s first, and toughest, restrictions in the nation on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.

“Colorado Democrats are pragmatists on energy and environmental issues,” Paul Bledsoe, a former climate change adviser to President Bill Clinton, recently told Josh.

ENTIRE FLORIDA CONGRESSIONAL DELEGATION OPPOSES OFFSHORE DRILLING: Florida’s entire congressional delegation urged the Interior Department Friday to not allow offshore oil and gas drilling off the state’s coast.

“The Florida delegation is united in the call to protect our state’s coasts from oil and gas development,” said Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat who spearheaded the letter with Rep. Francis Rooney, a Republican. “Floridians are keenly aware of the devastating impacts of oil and gas drilling off our shores and we cannot risk the devastation brought by blowouts nor afford the high costs of carbon pollution.”

The Interior Department will soon release its highly anticipated final plan to expand offshore oil and gas drilling. The agency released a draft proposal last March to permit oil and gas drilling in nearly all federal waters, including in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Flip-flopping on Florida: Interior is considering shrinking the plan after bipartisan complaints from coastal governors and lawmakers worried about the possibility that it could increase spills or hurt tourism.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke generated controversy when he met with former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, now a senator, soon after the draft report’s release.

After pressure from Scott, who was trying to boost his environmental credentials ahead of his Senate run, Zinke change course and vowed to keep Florida’s coast “off the table” for drilling — sparking claims of political bias.

But Interior has yet to officially finalize its plan for Florida, and lawmakers are not letting up.

STUDY SHOWS 91 PERCENT OF COAL ASH SITES HAVE CONTAMINATED GROUNDWATER: The vast majority of the nation’s sites storing coal waste have leaked toxic pollutants into nearby groundwater, according to a study by environmental groups released Monday.

Using industry data that is newly available thanks to federal coal ash regulations issued in 2015, the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice reported that groundwater near 242 of 265 coal plants with monitoring data, 91 percent of them, across 39 states contained unsafe levels of one or more coal ash pollutants, including arsenic, a known carcinogen, and lithium, which is associated with neurological damage.

“At a time when the Trump EPA – now being run by a former coal lobbyist – is trying to roll back federal regulations on coal ash, these new data provide convincing evidence that we should be moving in the opposite direction: toward stronger protections for human health and the environment,” said Abel Russ, the lead author of the report and attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

The Environmental Protection Agency, under former Adminstrator Scott Pruitt, proposed a rule last March that would give states and utilities more leeway in managing coal ash waste.

EPA ANNOUNCES STAFF CHANGES AFTER WHEELER’S CONFIRMATION: The EPA announced staff changes Monday after the Senate last week confirmed Andrew Wheeler as administrator, elevating him from his acting leadership role.

Wheeler, in a press release, said Doug Benevento will be the EPA’s senior counselor for regional management and state affairs. He is is currently EPA Region 8 administrator.

Michael Molina is Wheeler’s new deputy chief of staff. He was previously a senior adviser to Wheeler.

Wheeler also filled EPA’s human resources director position, after the office had been without a permanent leader for years, hiring Mara Kamen.

And EPA beefed up its media relations team, hiring Corry Schiermeyer as associate administrator for the Office of Public Affairs. Schiermeyer currently serves as press secretary for U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

RUNDOWN

Wall Street Journal Shale companies, adding more wells, threaten future of US oil boom

Washington Post A massive aquifer lies beneath the Mojave Desert. Could it help solve California’s water problem?

New York Times How the weather gets weaponized in climate change messaging

Axios Why Australia's climate change election matters to the world

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Calendar

TUESDAY | March 5

8 a.m., 525 New Jersey Ave. NW. American Wind Energy Association holds Wind Power on Capitol Hill, March 5-6, at the Washington Court Hotel.

10 a.m., 366 Dirksen. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee holds a hearing on "The Electricity Sector in a Changing Climate."

10 a.m., 406 Dirksen. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee holds a hearing of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee on states' role in protecting air quality, focusing on principles of cooperative federalism.

WEDNESDAY | March 6

2 p.m., 1324 Longworth. House Natural Resources Committee’s Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee holds a hearing on "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the U.S. Geological Survey."

5 p.m., 1619 Massachusetts Avenue NW. The John Hopkins school of international studies holds a forum entitled “India's Energy and Climate Policy.”