Acting Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said this week he has received a directive from President Trump to boost the struggling coal industry.
The Senate confirmed Brouillette in a 70-15 vote Monday night. He has yet to be sworn in.
Brouillette appears set to follow Perry’s path in looking for ways to bolster an industry that has been losing ground to renewables and natural gas.
Renewable energy production in the U.S. surpassed coal-fired generation over the summer for the first time, and coal-fired power plants have been struggling to obtain financial backing.
During his confirmation hearing, Brouillette said he was in favor of an “all of the above” energy strategy but cautioned against moving away from fossil fuels that could support baseload power as the renewable energy industry develops more reliable long-term battery storage.
In Monday’s interview, Brouillette said the plan isn’t to subsidize coal or reinforce its standing in electricity generation but rather look for other ways to extract value from coal.
“There are other uses for this product in the marketplace today,” Brouillette said. “We can make carbon from it, we can extract rare earth metals from it. We can look at the residue, for instance, from coal ash, and pull out critical materials for battery storage. There’s a bright future for coal, we’re just going to continue to develop it as it goes along.”
The Department of Energy has attempted to boost the coal industry in the past, most recently while Brouillette was Perry’s deputy.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2018 spiked a proposal from Perry that would have mandated higher electricity prices for coal. The proposal would have increased revenue for coal plants that kept at least 90 days of fuel on site, in an effort to shore up the electric supply.
The plan was roundly criticized as a politically motivated effort to benefit industries favored by the Trump administration that would raise electricity costs by as much as $11.8 billion.