Count on Coal (ash) for Critical Minerals? LNG Biden’s Climate Bind. Gara 4 Gov?

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Surging U.S. LNG puts Biden in climate bind
Carlos Anchondo, Lesley Clark, Miranda Will, E & E News, July 8, 2021

U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas are surging under President Biden, eclipsing prior records and poised to climb higher still.

Even as the administration pledges to tackle climate change in part by distancing the United States from fossil fuels, the country’s LNG exports expanded to a new high this March, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

The uptick highlights a challenge for Biden, who is facing pressure from his party’s left flank and environmental groups for a hard pivot from fossil fuels, even as gas supporters say the fuel would help cut global emissions by shifting countries away from coal.

Industry representatives worry that mixed messages or lukewarm support at the federal level for LNG could lead overseas buyers to question the United States’ commitment and turn elsewhere for energy imports.

The Biden administration could do a better job of defining how LNG fits into its climate policy goals, said Anna Mikulska, a nonresident fellow in energy studies at Rice University’s Baker Institute.

The administration is still “quite unclear or vague” on that score, Mikulska said. At times, comments from senior officials like Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and U.S. climate envoy John Kerry have appeared to conflict with each other, she said.

Kerry set off alarms within the industry in January when he warned in a speech to the World Economic Forum that if the globe continues to build infrastructure for gas, “we’re going to be stuck with stranded assets in 10 or 20 or 30 years.”

By contrast, Granholm has said U.S. LNG exports are often sent to “countries that would otherwise be using very carbon-intensive fuels” (Energywire, Jan. 28).

When pressed on the administration’s stance, Granholm and others have mainly talked about working with exporters on reducing emissions — a priority that’s shared by industry, according to trade group officials and some analysts.

During her confirmation hearing in January, for example, Granholm said she wanted to “work with the natural gas providers to see if we could continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the point of production.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which reviews proposed LNG terminals, has also started to consider greenhouse gas emissions in its environmental analyses for the first time ever.

Industry groups said the sector, under increasing market pressure to tackle its emissions challenges, is already headed in a greener direction. Efforts to cut greenhouse gases vary from carbon capture projects at export terminals to emissions monitoring and reporting initiatives.

Aside from a goal to curb the sector’s emissions, Biden’s approach to LNG stands in stark contrast to the previous two administrations, which outwardly supported exports. Trump-era Energy Secretary Rick Perry dubbed the fuel “freedom gas.”

That the Biden administration hasn’t said more about LNG is likely a byproduct of the tension between his climate-conscious agenda and the reality that LNG, while cleaner than coal, is still a fossil fuel, experts said.

“The Biden administration is in a little bit of a bind,” said Mikulska, noting that an embrace of natural gas could be seen as undercutting the administration’s climate goals.

Just last week, Biden’s Department of Energy said it would study the emissions footprint of LNG shipments from a proposed export terminal in Alaska as part of an environmental review. That decision prompted concern in the industry and hope from environmentalists that it will lead to increased scrutiny of similar projects (Energywire, July 6).

“We are certainly paying attention to … what this proceeding might tell us about how DOE, under the current administration, thinks about LNG exports more broadly,” said Nathan Matthews, a senior attorney with the Sierra Club.

Global upside?

Some in the industry posit that sending the wrong message on exports could have global consequences.

“What we wouldn’t want to do is send any message to our allies around the world that the United States is questioning its role as a major supplier of natural gas,” said Dustin Meyer, vice president of natural gas markets at the American Petroleum Institute.

“That would definitely be concerning, but I think so far, the [Biden] administration — some of the key principals — have taken a fairly measured approach here publicly,” he added.

Mikulska said more LNG exports fit into Biden’s goals because climate targets aren’t local, but global. On the global scale, she said, U.S. LNG “can provide decarbonization benefits coupled with energy security benefits.”

Paul Bledsoe, who served as a DOE consultant under President Obama and worked on climate change in the Clinton administration, said the Biden administration has an opportunity “to prove that U.S. gas can be by far the lowest-emitting in the world.”

The Trump administration sought to pitch LNG to U.S. allies as a cleaner alternative to fossil fuels, “but had no credibility when it came to climate and lowering emissions,” he said.

Bledsoe, now a strategic adviser for the Progressive Policy Institute, said he expects the current administration to focus on driving emissions from gas lower, noting that Biden has proposed spending $16 billion to reduce venting and flaring and has pledged more stringent regulations around methane, the main component of natural gas.

“The U.S. is on the road to having incredibly low-emitting natural gas, and they should market that globally,” Bledsoe said. “Wean Europe and China off coal. It’s a huge opportunity, and I think they will seize it, ultimately.”

Reading the tea leaves

Swirling around the LNG debate is a desire for more details about where Biden stands on the fuel and how it relates to his climate agenda.

While few expect the administration to offer the same full-throated embrace of LNG as former President Trump, industry groups said there have been some positive signs and flagged instances in which administration officials have made remarks that have been interpreted as supportive of LNG. The bulk of those have cropped up through hearings on Capitol Hill.

Those include comments earlier last month by Andrew Light, Biden’s nominee for assistant secretary of international affairs at DOE, who told lawmakers that his job will be “to make sure that U.S. gas is competitive around the world.”

“More and more countries are looking for cleaner sources of gas,” Light said in response to a question about exports from Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). “We’ve got to make sure that ours is cleaner and that ours fills those markets around the world, and that’s what I intend to do.”

Republican senators — mostly from states with LNG facilities — have repeatedly pressed Biden administration appointees in recent weeks to detail the president’s position on the fuel.

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), whose state handles more than half of U.S. LNG shipments, sought last month to pin Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg down on whether he believes the nation will still be exporting LNG in 10 years.

Kennedy asked whether the world would be “better off in terms of the environment” if the United States sold LNG to countries that use coal.

Buttigieg, though, was noncommittal, telling Kennedy, “I think that the sooner the U.S. can get zero emissions in any given industry, the better off the world and the U.S. are going to be.”

And Biden himself has been tight-lipped on the subject. A spokesperson for the White House didn’t respond to questions about what the president makes of rising U.S. LNG exports or how they fit into the administration’s climate agenda.

Record-breaking exports are the result of multiple factors, including years of industry investment in LNG export infrastructure and the current global demand for natural gas, analysts and trade groups said.

For her part, Granholm has repeatedly noted DOE’s obligations under the Natural Gas Act to permit facilities (Energywire, March 8).

Matthews, the Sierra Club senior attorney, said the Biden administration could assert that building out more LNG infrastructure is not in the public interest, as it would lock in “use of this very carbon-intensive fuel while we’re facing global warming that is here and now.” On those grounds, Biden could direct DOE not to approve any future LNG export authorizations for projects, he said.

On the other hand, industry groups said the Biden administration could help the LNG sector by being more vocal about the role of natural gas in displacing coal, reassuring allies about the continued availability of U.S. natural gas, and ensuring that there’s a full complement of five FERC commissioners so that project reviews can move ahead in an efficient way — a nod to Republican Commissioner Neil Chatterjee’s upcoming departure from the agency.

The administration’s ambiguous stance could overshadow critical spending decisions by other countries and investors, Tim Tarpley, senior vice president of government affairs at the Energy Workforce & Technology Council, said in an interview. The council represents companies that provide the equipment and expertise needed to produce oil and natural gas.

Tarpley said he fears that U.S. allies could reevaluate investments in the infrastructure needed to accept U.S. exports if Biden doesn’t show stronger support.

He pointed to a floating LNG terminal developed in Croatia as a project that was supported by both the Obama and Trump administrations. Croatians felt “comfortable making that investment because they saw support from the United States,” Tarpley said.

“We hope and encourage that other countries would make those kinds of investments, and we worry the ambiguity that’s out there now will put kind of a cloud over those kinds of decisions,” he said.

report from Global Energy Monitor last month said that a “combination of oversupply and recessionary concerns related to Covid-19 caused nearly half of projects in the pipeline as of mid-2020 to experience delays” when it came to achieving a final investment decision, or FID.

“For North America-based projects, finance remained tight throughout the year, with only a single project, Costa Azul LNG Terminal on the Pacific coast of Mexico, announcing FID,” the report said.

Going green

Charlie Riedl, executive director of the Center for Liquefied Natural Gas (CLNG), said he doesn’t expect the Biden administration to make a big endorsement of LNG exports.

But that may not matter much for an industry that has already surged to record highs under Biden’s tenure, he added.

“I think as long as we continue to hear that there isn’t opposition and that the U.S. is going to continue to deliver LNG in the manner that it has been delivering LNG under the previous two administrations, I think that’s more than enough,” said Riedl, whose advocacy group is part of the Natural Gas Supply Association.

Riedl welcomed Granholm’s pledge in January to work with natural gas providers to reduce their emissions and said that for CLNG members, reentering the Paris climate agreement “was not a bad thing.”

More and more, industry is turning to technology in a bid to lower its emissions, which could be an area of consensus with the White House.

The administration is shaping up to be a major champion of research into technologies to remove carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels.

Meanwhile, some LNG companies have started to invest in expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage, among other steps to cut CO2 pollution.

Globally, the LNG industry is under increasing pressure to “demonstrate its green credentials,” said Alex Munton, a Wood Mackenzie principal analyst for LNG research. Coupled with the Biden administration’s push to lower emissions from the sector, that has led to a spate of new initiatives that seek to improve the “carbon profile of U.S. LNG,” he said.

Those include a collaboration between Cheniere Energy Inc., gas suppliers and universities to better quantify emissions from production sites (Energywire, May 27).

Carbon-neutral LNG could make up half of the industry by 2030, Ciaran Roe, global director of LNG pricing at S&P Global Platts, said in an interview. Platts recently began publishing data on the cost of offsetting emissions for one of the most-traveled routes in the LNG trade — shipments from Australia to Asia — and plans to expand the service to other sectors, possibly including U.S. exports.

“There’s definitely an appetite for more information on this,” Roe said.

Rebekah Hinojosa, an organizer with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign, took aim at one of those carbon capture projects — slated for NextDecade Corp.’s Rio Grande LNG export facility — at an online conference last month.

“A carbon capture project at the LNG terminal itself is a drop in the bucket of total emissions from the project,” said Hinojosa, who went on to dismiss the effort as a “green-washing attempt” at a later event.

A NextDecade spokesperson said Hinojosa “misrepresents facts and does a tremendous disservice to the people of the Rio Grande Valley who support job creation, economic growth, and the opportunity to lead the world as a center of innovation for clean energy and emissions reduction.”

The spokesperson added that “advancing technological solutions to voluntarily reduce emissions of a fully permitted LNG facility can hardly be characterized as green washing, especially when these verifiable emissions reductions equate to removing nearly 1 million cars from the road each year.”

FERC wild card

Compounding the Biden-era uncertainty around LNG are the changing political dynamics at FERC.

Over the past two decades, the independent energy agency has approved more than 99% of the natural gas pipeline proposals that have come before it, according to the results of a congressional investigation last year. Environmental groups say FERC has a similar track record of rubber-stamping LNG projects.

Under Trump, the commission approved a slew of LNG proposals opposed by environmental and community groups, including the Jordan Cove export terminal in Oregon and the Port Arthur LNG project on the Gulf Coast of Texas (Greenwire, April 19, 2019).

“With LNG terminals, FERC’s position has always been, ‘We’re going to permit these and let the market decide what actually gets built,'” said Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.

But FERC’s current chairman, Democrat Richard Glick, has sought to steer things in a different direction.

In March, the commission considered the greenhouse gas emissions and contributions to climate change from a proposed new natural gas pipeline for the first time in its history. The agency still approved the project.

Biden is expected to name a third Democrat to FERC later this year to replace Chatterjee, whose term expired last month. Chatterjee has said he hopes to stay on the commission until a successor can be confirmed — and many analysts expect Biden’s nominee to take a climate-conscious approach to gas projects.

“There’s already speculation about who Biden’s appointees are going to be to replace [Chatterjee], and that will give them a Democratic majority,” Samuel Reynolds, an energy finance analyst at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said at a conference hosted by the group last month. “I think we will start to see greater accounting for greenhouse gas emissions in the FERC process.”

This year, FERC also reopened an earlier proceeding concerning whether to consider a wider variety of issues when reviewing gas pipeline applications, such as the impacts of projects on environmental justice communities and whether they align with states’ clean energy policies.

Although the review focuses on pipeline proposals, it could affect LNG facilities, as well, since many terminals are served by pipelines, according to Riedl of the CLNG.

In addition, FERC took the unusual step in February of issuing a “paper briefing” to consider potential public safety issues at a Massachusetts natural gas compressor station that the agency had already approved.

Natural gas groups have claimed that reexamining complaints raised about the Weymouth Compressor Station, which is currently in operation, goes against FERC precedent. The Interstate Natural Gas Association of America is challenging FERC’s briefing order in federal court (Energywire, June 21).

International buyers of natural gas have also been “asking questions” about how the development relating to the compressor station could affect FERC’s consideration of LNG export projects, Riedl said.

“Certainty is vital to the LNG industry and for international buyers, and these actions by FERC create uncertainty for current and future projects,” he said.

Nonetheless, some observers say it’s too early to tell whether FERC will begin to reject proposals on environmental and other grounds. And because the agency operates independently from the White House, its decisions may not always align with Biden’s agenda.

“Change is overdue, and it’ll be interesting to see how quickly they change and what that actually looks like,” Brown said.


The growing Gulf rivalry that’s pushing up oil prices
Sameer Hashmi, BBC News, July 8, 2021

A bitter public rift between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia over oil production quotas this week caused talks between the world’s biggest oil-producing nations to be abandoned and left energy markets in limbo, pushing oil prices to a six-year high.

The 23 nations in Opec+, which comprises the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries cartel and allied producers like Russia, had to postpone their negotiations indefinitely, raising fears about its stability of a group that has deftly handled supplies over the past 18 months to cope with the coronavirus-related global economic crisis.

The problem began last week, when the UAE rejected a proposal by Opec+ leaders Saudi Arabia and Russia to extend output curbs for another eight months.

The UAE wanted to renegotiate its current baseline – the level from which production cuts or increases are calculated – to give it freedom to pump out more oil. However, Saudi Arabia and Russia were against doing so.

The negotiations took an unusual turn when the energy ministers of the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which are close allies, went public with their difference.

“The rift has come as a surprise, but perhaps the tussle was inevitable,” says Ben Cahill, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“Abu Dhabi’s production capacity is at odds with its Opec quota. It has invested a lot of money to raise its production. And now demand is picking up. That’s why the UAE has been frustrated over the last year at its inability to increase production,” he adds.

Two princes

For several years, the partnership between Saudi Arabia and the UAE has shaped the geopolitics of the Arab world.

The personal bond between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed has been instrumental in cementing this alliance.

Both men are seen as their country’s de facto ruler and have ambitious visions.

For several years there was deep co-operation on strategic issues. They formed an Arab military coalition in 2015 to fight a war against the Iran-aligned rebel Houthi movement in Yemen, and imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar in 2017.

But cracks in the relationship began to appear two years ago, when the UAE withdrew most of its troops from Yemen, leaving the Saudis displeased.

In January, the Emiratis reluctantly accepted a Saudi-lead deal to end the Qatar embargo, even though they remain wary of trusting Doha. Similarly, Saudi Arabia was not enthused by the UAE’s decision to normalise relations with Israel last year.

The cracks started to deepen this February, when Saudi Arabia issued an ultimatum to multinational companies to relocate their regional headquarters to the kingdom by 2024 or lose out on government contracts. This was perceived as an implicit attack on Dubai (in the UAE), the commercial hub of the region.

After the Emiratis blocked the proposed Opec+ deal, the Saudis appeared to retaliate by suspending flights to the UAE. It cited concerns about coronavirus variants, but the decision came just ahead of an Islamic holiday when many people head to Dubai for a break.

Saudi Arabia also announced that it would exclude imports from free zones or linked to Israel from a preferential tariff agreement with other Gulf states, delivering a blow to the UAE’s economy, which revolves around a free zone model.

Economic competition

The tussle at Opec+ is underlined by a growing economic rivalry, with both countries trying to diversify their economies by reducing their dependence on hydrocarbon exports.

With Saudi Arabia adopting a more aggressive economic strategy under Mohammed bin Salman, they are now competing in sectors like tourism, financial services and technology.

“Saudi Arabia is the giant in the region which is now waking up. And at some level that’s a concern for the Emiratis,” says Neil Quilliam, an associate fellow at Chatham House in London.

“In 15 to 20 years’ time, if Saudi Arabia transforms into a dynamic economy, then that would be a threat for the Emirati economic model.”

It is still unclear whether Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be able to agree on a new Opec+ deal.

But Ali Shihabi, a Saudi analyst close to the royal court, does not believe the rift will hamper their relationship in the long run, even though the Emiratis’ rigid stance came as a “shock” to the Saudis – especially given that they had worked very hard to achieve consensus.

“Both the sides have had much bigger disagreements in the past,” he says.

“Every relationship goes through ups and downs, including the US and the UK. But the fundamentals of this relationship are really [too] strong to cause any permanent damage to this alliance.”


U.S. natural gas production to rise in 2021 as demand falls – EIA
Reuters, July 7, 2021

U.S. natural gas production will increase in 2021 and demand will fall, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said in its Short-Term Energy Outlook (STEO) on Wednesday.

The EIA projected dry gas production will rise to 96.99 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in 2021 from 95.81 bcfd in 2020 before rising to 99.63 bcfd in 2022. That compares with 93.06 bcfd in 2019.

The agency also projected gas consumption would fall to 82.32 bcfd in 2021 from 83.25 bcfd in 2020, and then rise to 82.87 bcfd in 2022. That compares with a record high of 85.15 bcfd in 2019.

The EIA’s projections for 2021 in July were higher for supply and lower for demand than its June forecasts of 92.18 bcfd for supply and 82.85 bcfd for demand. (Reporting by Scott DiSavino and Jessica Resnick-Ault; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Marguerita Choy, Peter Graff)


Researchers eye coal ash as a possible source of critical minerals — and Southwest Virginia jobs
Sarah Vogelsong, Virginia Mercury, July 7, 2021

Coal as a source of power generation may be headed toward the dust heap of history, but its ashes are destined to be considerably longer-lived — and, some hope, could become a building block of tomorrow’s electricity and many other crucial products. 

The byproducts of burning coal for electricity are a widely recognized environmental liability. Millions of tons of coal ash — an umbrella term for ash particles, boiler slag, sludge and other coal plant residues — have been stockpiled around the U.S. in ponds and landfills. Virginia is home to more than 26 disposal sites, of which five are still active.

Containing arsenic, mercury and cadmium and other heavy metals that can contaminate water supplies, coal ash was propelled onto the national environmental agenda by high-profile spills at impoundment ponds in Tennessee in 2008 and North Carolina in 2014. The latter spill led to the release of thousands of tons of coal ash and millions of gallons of contaminated water into the Dan River in both Virginia and North Carolina.

Now, researchers and state and federal officials are hoping to tap into the industrial waste stream for some of the key building blocks of a new energy system built on renewables and batteries: rare earth elements and critical minerals such as aluminum, cobalt, lithium and titanium.

“The entire green energy industry is heavily dependent on a range of critical minerals,” said Michael Karmis, director of the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research at Virginia Tech. 

As nations move to reduce carbon emissions, demand for rare earth minerals is expected to soar. One report by the International Energy Agency found that meeting the Paris Agreement goal of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius would require “a quadrupling of mineral requirements for clean energy technologies by 2040.” President Joseph Biden’s administration has estimated that global demand for lithium and graphite, both of which are used in batteries, will jump by 4000 percent by the same year. 

“The kind of desktop computer we had in the 1980s took about 15 elements from the periodic table,” said David Spears, director of the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy’s Division of Geology and Mineral Resources. “Now, especially with smart screens and touchscreens, these devices require something like 75 elements.” 

Digital devices aren’t the only big consumers of minerals and rare earths. Electric cars require six times more minerals than cars with internal combustion engines, while an onshore wind facility needs nine times more minerals than a gas plant, according to the IEA. 

Most of those resources, however, currently come from China — which not only mined about 60 percent of the world’s rare earths in 2019 but processed almost 90 percent of them.  

With the race to decarbonize accelerating, officials are increasingly hunting for domestic sources of these commodities. Research has shown rare earths and critical minerals exist in both coal byproducts and other geological deposits but figuring out how to extract them on a commercial scale has proven more difficult. 

Virginia will serve as one testing ground for a broader deployment of the idea beginning this summer. In April, the U.S. Department of Energy awarded $1.5 million to the Virginia Center for Coal and Energy to lead a team to examine not only extraction but processing of rare earth elements and critical minerals from coal and coal byproducts in the Central Appalachian basin. Participants will include West Virginia University, the University of Kentucky, state and federal agencies including DMME and regional economic development groups, among others. Dominion Energy will also offer assistance, although Appalachian Power will not be involved, spokesperson Teresa Hall said in an email. 

“There’s an opportunity to take an environmental liability and turn it into an environmental asset,” said Karmis. “All the major mining companies are pushing this big time.” 

Appalachia may offer special promise: in 2016, researchers from Duke University found that fly ash, a fine-particle type of coal ash, from Appalachian coal had a higher concentration of rare earth elements compared to fly ash from other U.S. coal basins. Consequently, the researchers concluded, “ashes from Appalachian sources should be prioritized” in any effort to recover rare earths. 

For Virginia, like other states within the region, there’s an additional incentive to seed mineral exploration: economic development. 

As thermal coal — coal used for electricity generation — has waned in popularity, areas like Southwest Virginia whose economies are built on the resource have found themselves on increasingly shaky ground. 

The fourth most coal-dependent area in the U.S., Southwest Virginia has seen both coal employment and production drop precipitously. Over the past two decades, tonnage has fallen by over 70 percent, from 33.3 million tons in 2000 to 9.9 million in 2020, while employment has more than halved, from 4,948 to 1,878 workers. Even the discovery of high-quality metallurgical coal reserves prized for steelmaking hasn’t been able to halt the decline. 

“I think we all see the writing on the wall that there’s going to be less and less demand for that steam coal,” said Spears. “And I think we’re all, especially here at DMME, looking for ways to diversify economic opportunities for Southwest Virginia, and this is one potential thing.

“Imagine if we found that some of these coal waste piles had significant amounts of critical minerals in them,” he added. “We could go back and re-mine them and clean them up.” 

In deliberations about coal ash cleanup, state lawmakers have already shown a preference for reuse. A major 2019 law required at least a quarter of all coal ash in ponds or landfills in the Chesapeake Bay watershed to be recycled. 

Construction has so far been the biggest beneficiary of coal ash reuse. The waste can be repurposed to make concrete, cement, wallboard and other materials. This January, Dominion announced it had signed a contract with Louisville, Ky.-based Charah Solutions to use 8.1 million tons of coal ash from Chesterfield Power Station for the production of Portland cement, the most common type of cement used around the world. 

Whether ash could be recycled for both construction uses and minerals on a commercial scale remains unclear, said Karmis: “Potentially yes, but it is difficult to say at what cost at this point and what is the best technology.” 

Environmental groups, however, have taken a more cautious approach to the possibilities of extraction.

While the reuse of coal ash has become a popular strategy for dealing with the waste, efforts to obtain rare earths and critical minerals from it “should not overlook legitimate concerns about how ash processing could affect neighboring communities and the environment,” said Jamie Brunkow, the James Riverkeeper and a senior advocacy manager of the James River Association who has been closely involved with the coal ash cleanup issue in Virginia. 

“Extraction of rare earth elements currently requires processing and use of acids that at commercial scale may generate new and concerning waste streams,” he wrote in an email. “Considering the toxic elements present in coal ash, the research should evaluate both the technology and the risks inherent in its application.” 

Chelsea Barnes, legislative director for environmental and consumer protection nonprofit Appalachian Voices, also warned in an email that “putting workers in direct contact with these materials to extract critical minerals and other elements is extraordinarily dangerous.” Many workers involved in the Kingston spill cleanup have died or contracted cancer and other illnesses, she pointed out; more than 200 sued the cleanup contractor. 

Coal ash isn’t the only potential source of rare earths and critical minerals. Both can be found in other deposits to varying extents. 

DMME’s Division of Geology and Mineral Resources has identified four critical minerals, including rare earth elements, that have a “high potential for economic commercial development” in Virginia, as well as 13 with “moderate potential.” Exploitation of some has already begun: five areas in Henry, Roanoke, Amherst, Nelson, Dinwiddie and Greensville counties have been mined or prospected for rare earth elements. 

Another potential target may be beaches. This July, using funding from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the division will do a desktop study of technologies that can be used to extract minerals from beach sand, either while it’s been dredged or transported. 

“The Atlantic Coast beaches, especially near the mouths of rivers, contain a fairly high fraction of these darker minerals that contain rare earth elements,” said Spears. 

The first phase of the Virginia Tech-led study is also expected to begin this summer, once contract negotiations with the Department of Energy are complete. Subsequent phases will depend on findings about where and in what quantities critical minerals and rare earths can be found in the Central Appalachian coalfields and whether they can be extracted.

“We’ve always been interested in the materials that are necessary to support our civilization,” said Spears. “And Virginia just happens to be fortunate to have a great variety of industrial minerals.”  


Former Alaska lawmaker Les Gara weighing run for governor
Associated Press, July 7, 2021

Former Alaska state Rep. Les Gara said Wednesday he is considering a run for governor.

The Anchorage Democrat said he hoped to make a decision by the end of this summer. The primary is in August 2022.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection.

A voter initiative passed last year calls for a single primary ballot, with the top four vote-getters advancing to the general election. Ranked-choice voting would be used for general elections.

Gara served in the state House from January 2003 to January 2019.

He said he feels “very strongly that this is becoming a state that people are moving from rather than moving to, and I think Alaskans deserve a state where we create opportunity.”

He is also critical of Dunleavy’s handling of budget issues.


Conservative climate caucus head: GOP has shifted on warming
Anthony Adranga, Politico, July 7, 2021

Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah) says he’s poised to lead his party to the negotiating table in search of durable solutions to the climate challenge after years of working to understand the issue. He announced a new Conservative Climate Caucus last month, complete with the backing of nearly a third of House Republicans, in hopes of getting the GOP more comfortable talking about the climate issue and their proposals.

Curtis, a mild-mannered former mayor of Provo, Utah who came to Congress in 2017, understands the skepticism some may have toward the group, and said he’s “ready to be judged” in a year on what impact it’s had on the climate change conversation.

In a recentphone interview, Curtis said he’s wary of linking particular events, like last week’s heat wave in the Pacific Northwest, to climate change directly rather than examining longer-term trends, which he finds more compelling. He thinks Democrats may be making a mistake in calling climate change a crisis and says his caucus won’t endorse specific legislation to address the problem. The congressman also said he’s not yet on board with carbon pricing, despite increasing interest from industry groups.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Why was this the proper moment to unveil this caucus, and what are you hoping to bring to the broader climate conversation?

If I had a magic wand, we would have done this sooner. I think the main reason that we didn’t is I’ve been on a personal journey myself for several years, trying to get my climate feet underneath me. Of late, I feel like I better understand the science — although I still don’t completely understand it — but I better understand it. I understand solutions.

And I have sensed from my Republican colleagues that they are much like me in the sense that we regret that we’ve allowed ourselves to be branded as not caring about the environment, and I think that’s not true. I think we care deeply. It’s time for us to come forward with our ideas. We’ve done a wonderful job of telling people what we don’t like, and we actually have quite a few good ideas, and we want a seat at the table.

What do you see this caucus proposing in terms of new policy ideas that Republicans haven’t proposed for the last decade or so?

The caucus has intentionally said that we won’t endorse specific legislation. Our mission is to get Republicans comfortable with the different proposals out there, comfortable with the science, [and] comfortable with talking about it. So, we’ve got a number of committees that have jurisdiction over legislation. Our intent is to let them do their work and we’ll do ours. So, I can tell you, philosophically, where it’s headed but then, as far as specific bills, you won’t see that from us.

Philosophically, where do you see the caucus headed?

Philosophically, we as a group believe strongly that we do have a responsibility to be good stewards, that the climate is changing and that decades and decades of industrial revolution has clearly had an impact on that, and that there are ways to impact that that don’t have to tear at the US economy — but as a matter of fact will do just the opposite. We will be advocating for things like innovation, direct air capture and carbon sequestration.

I think sometimes people fight [the Republican approach] because it gives life to fossil fuels, but the reality of it is that for some time, many parts of the world — and large parts of the world — are going to be using fossil fuels and very dirty fossil fuels, by the way. A billion people that don’t have electricity and they’re burning wood. China is opening coal plants faster than we could ever imagine. So, unless we’re using our innovation to find a way to deal with that, we can’t ultimately be successful.

I think you’ll hear us talk about reimagining nuclear and that doesn’t mean that we have to accept nuclear as it is today. The next generation nuclear — and making it safer — is very, very important. We can do nuclear at large scale and without a carbon footprint and that’s something that we can’t ignore. Right now, at the very same year that President Biden wants to be at half of greenhouse gas emissions, our nuclear will be cut in half because we’re closing nuclear plants. So, you can see that makes that task that much more difficult if we’re without nuclear.

One of the ideas that has been floated by some groups traditionally aligned with conservatives is carbon pricing, but that doesn’t seem to filter down yet to House Republicans. Why do you think Republicans haven’t been swayed by these calls?

To be fair, Democrats haven’t been swayed either. It’s a very unpopular proposal here in Washington, D.C. I have a large number of lobbying groups who talk to me about this. As a matter of fact, Citizens Climate Lobby — who I’m very good friends within Utah — I commit to take a hike with them every year.

Just this last week I hiked 10 miles with them. On the hike, the leader said to me at one point, “okay, why do you keep meeting with us?” And I said to him, “well, why do you keep meeting with me?” And it’s because we share a genuine interest in the end goal, and we have some differences about how to reach that, but we do have a genuine interest in that end goal.

I point out to them a couple of things that concern me about their plan. Nobody has shown me how you adequately deal with China and Russia with their plan. Here again, if ignoring outside our borders, we’re not going to be successful. And I also have serious reservations about the country’s ability to collect the tax and redistribute it, as promised.

None of those things are death knells and I continue to talk to them and explore it, but one of the things I tell them is that: “It’s not me. You don’t even have the Democrats on board with you on this. So, while you keep working on that, let’s not stop talking about other ideas.”

What is your reaction to critics who will say this group is just another attempt by Republicans to adopt a messaging shift without policy to back it up?

So, I would think this is a little bit of a litmus test for them. They’ve given us a litmus test in the past which is “Do you think the climate’s changing?” This is a litmus test for them. I’ve had a number of my Democratic colleagues walk up and just really praise our efforts. And I read from that they’re genuine about changing the environmental picture. And so, they’re happy that we’re here. If they’re standing at the back taking shots at us, I tend to say, “Well, it’s just political to you and your only concerned about political points and you’re worried about that.”

To those folks, I’d say watch us. We’ve been a group now less than a week. So, don’t be too tough on us but watch us. I am totally ready to be judged a year from on how much impact we’ve had on the debate. I would just tell you 65 members — a third of the Republican conference — have signed up to a document that says the climate is changing and men had some influence on it. I think we ought to get a little credit for that. I think that’s a big deal.

Would you agree that climate has sort of become a culture war issue in the past 10 years? Do you think the caucus is trying to deescalate that and how do you go about doing that?

If I walk into a room for Democrats and I say let’s have a conversation about immigration but I’m not going to have that conversation with you unless you admit that the wall will impact in a positive way immigration, I’m not going to have a good dialogue with them, right? it’s just not going to go well. Their chest tightens up, they start seeing red. The reason why is the word “wall” is jam-packed full of all sorts of things that have nothing to do with a physical wall. It has the Trump agenda in it. It has all of these things packed into it.

And the word climate is very similar to Republicans, and it has that same kind of emotional trigger, which has little to do with environmental stewardship and far more to do with “you have to accept the Green New Deal and you have to jump all in.” I really don’t believe most of us deny the science. I think we just hate the question.

I really encourage my Democratic colleagues to really stop asking the question and I encourage my Republican colleagues to start answering it. Because the moment you don’t answer, you’re branded as denying science.

With the record high temperatures, we have in the Pacific Northwest, the megadrought, the wildfire season that looks poised to be really awful, does any of that indicate new urgency in addressing climate change aggressively? Democrats call it a crisis — do you agree with that framing?

First of all, when everything’s a crisis, nothing’s a crisis. I think it’s a mistake to try to motivate people with the crisis rhetoric. It doesn’t really motivate conservatives.

You also have to be really careful: we’ve always had extreme weather events. Climate change, as I understand it, has far more to do with trends. And so, yes, a drought is more of a trend. Higher temperatures over a sustained period of time are more of a trend. It’s hard for me — I’m not a scientist — it’s hard for me to say look, “The high temperatures, it’s absolutely part of global warming or it’s just a weird anomaly.” But what’s not hard for me is to look at the trends — to look at the trends of warming, to look at the trends of more storms, to look at the trends of the extremes.

That’s been a little bit of a mistake by some people in the way that they address climate. They’re frustrated when the crisis or the science doesn’t motivate people. I don’t think science motivates anybody to do anything. Look at Covid, right? The science said wear a mask. The science said don’t gather in large groups, What did people do? They didn’t care about the science. Maybe one of the missions that we can accomplish through this is figuring out how to connect with people on a really motivating level, a level that makes serious change.