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Biden Administration Pulls Support for Coal Plants, Carbon-Intensive Projects Overseas

December 29, 2021 by Dan McCue
(Photo by Ella Ivanescu via Unsplash)

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration has ordered an end to federal support for the construction of coal plants and other carbon-intensive projects overseas.

The policy, which was communicated to U.S. embassies earlier this month, is expected to be fully in force by the end of 2022 and will apply to all fossil fuel-related projects, “except in limited and clearly defined circumstances,” a State Department spokesman said in an email to The Well News.

The shift in policy is an outgrowth of the United States’ participation in the United Nations climate change conference, more commonly referred to as COP26, in early November.

In the email, the State Department spokesperson said the administration has elevated climate change as a core tenet of its foreign policy and that accelerating the global transition to a net-zero emissions future is a key part of that work.

“We are committed to doing so in a way that safeguards U.S. geostrategic interests and access to reliable, resilient, affordable energy, while also accounting for rising energy demand around the world.”

“This commitment, which is consistent with the president’s Jan. 27 executive order on tackling the climate crisis and the commitment the U.S. made in June along with other G7 countries to end public financing of unabated coal generation by the end of 2021, will reorient tens of billions of dollars of public finance and trillions of private finance towards low carbon priorities,” the spokesperson said.  

The cable, the existence of which was first reported by Bloomberg, said going forward the United States’ “international energy engagement will center on promoting clean energy, advancing innovative technologies, boosting U.S. clean-tech competitiveness and providing financing and technical assistance to support net-zero transitions around the world.”

Among other things, the communique — referred to by the State Department spokesman as “guidance for official international energy engagements” — emphasizes that the administration will not support the construction or operation of coal-fired power plants overseas unless and until the operators deploy carbon capture technologies to minimize their impact on the climate.

But U.S. embassies were also told that some oil and gas projects will be given exemptions if they are considered to significantly advance national security interests.

In addition, the administration said while it will not support such projects, it won’t force U.S.-based companies to stop building coal, oil and gas facilities in foreign countries.

The policy and the exemptions are intended to “steer U.S government investment toward clean energy projects that will power the future and maintain our foreign policy interests,” the State Department official said.  

“Official international energy engagement will focus on promoting clean energy, advancing innovative technologies, and providing financing and technical assistance that supports countries’ emissions-reduction goals,” they added. 

“The clean energy transition is imperative to our ability to address the climate crisis and ensure long-term energy security, but we also know that it will not happen overnight,” the official continued.

“In some cases, engagement on a carbon-intensive energy project may still be necessary to protect national security or advance development goals, and no viable low-carbon alternative exists — which is why related exemption pathways are defined in the guidance distributed to agencies. The Biden administration is committed to meeting this moment responsibly and helping to build the safer, healthier, and more prosperous future Americans expect and deserve,” the State Department official said. 

Dan can be reached at dan@thewellnews.com and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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