BILLINGS, Mont. — U.S. and China officials took a major step Tuesday toward an agreement to advance “clean coal” technologies that purport to reduce the fuel’s contribution to climate change — and could offer a potential lifeline for an industry that’s seen its fortunes fade.
The agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and China’s National Energy Administration would allow the two nations to share their results as they refine technologies to capture the greenhouse gases produced from burning coal, said Christopher Smith, the Energy Department’s assistant secretary for fossil energy.
Terms of the deal were finalized late Tuesday. Officials said it would be signed at a later date.
Smith spoke after he and other senior officials from President Barack Obama’s administration met with representatives of China’s National Energy Administration during an industry forum in Billings. The discussions took place near one of the largest coal reserves in the world — the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, where massive strip mines produce roughly 40 percent of the coal burned in the U.S.
But clean-coal technologies are expensive, and efforts to develop them for commercial use have struggled to gain traction in the U.S. Some critics describe clean coal as an impossibility and say money being spent on it should instead go toward renewable energy.
China leads the world in coal use. It produces and consumes about 4 billion tons annually, four times as much as in the U.S.
Shi Yubo, vice administrator of China’s energy agency, told delegates to the forum that coal will continue to play a role in China’s developing economy. “But we need to pay special attention to developing clean coal technology,” he added through an interpreter.
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