SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Trump administration is committed to making fossil fuels cleaner rather than imposing "draconian" regulations on coal and oil, U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Thursday at an energy conference in Salt Lake City.
Perry previously said the administration wants to spend a half-billion dollars next year on fossil fuel research and development as demand plummets for coal and surges for natural gas.
"Instead of punishing fuels that produce emissions through regulation, we're seeking to reduce those emissions by innovation," Perry said at the conference.
Fossil fuel emissions have been cited by scientists as a major source of global warming.
United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres recently said the world must change how it fuels factories, vehicles, and homes to limit future global warming.
Perry said the Trump administration has proven it can make energy cleaner, but he provided no details involving coal and other fossil fuels other than the closing of old, inefficient coal-burning power plants and exporting increasing volumes of natural gas, an alternative to coal.
Department of Energy spokesman Dirk Vande Beek didn't immediately return an email and voicemail seeking more details about Perry's claim.
Perry pointed to an overall drop in emissions as proof of progress.
Greenhouse gas emissions dropped 13 percent from 2005-2017, according to the most recent report from the Environmental Protection Agency.
Lindsay Beebe of the Sierra Club in Utah said trying to make fossil fuels cleaner is misspent energy.
"I don't know that it's possible right now, but what is ready right now are renewables. Wind, solar and geothermal are commercially viable and at scale," Beebe said.
The summit Thursday was briefly interrupted when 15 protesters took the stage to criticize the administration's fixation on fossil fuels.
They said the misguided approach ignores climate change before they were escorted out by police.
After they left, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, who sponsored the event, said he and other leaders appreciated the "youthful enthusiasm" but their call to immediately discard fossil fuels and shift entirely to renewable energy isn't realistic.
"They would like us to quit by Friday and not take anything out of the ground," Herbert said. "That obviously doesn't work from a practical standpoint."
Americans burned a record amount of energy in 2018, with a 10 percent jump in consumption from booming natural gas helping lead the way, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said.
Fossil fuels in all accounted for 80 percent of Americans' energy use.
This story has been corrected to say there were 15 protesters inside the summit, not 25.