We Must Support CCS Technology

Posted December 4, 2008 at 4:23pm

Earlier this year I introduced the Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act (H.R. 6258). Supported by a broad, bipartisan group of co-sponsors, this bill will lay the foundation for Congress to design an economically sustainable climate-change-control program.

The bill will advance the development and demonstration of carbon capture and storage technologies by creating a $1 billion annual fund supported by small fees on electricity generated from coal, oil and natural gas. The commercial development of CCS technologies is vital to our nation’s ability to achieve in an economically sustainable manner major reductions of carbon dioxide emissions, the principal man-made contributor to global climate change.

CCS technologies will store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants underground in deep storage sites, such as saline aquifers, unmineable coal seams and shale formations. If major greenhouse gas emission reduction requirements are imposed before CCS technologies become widely available, electric utilities would have little choice but to switch to more costly natural gas, a shift that would severely stress the entire economy.

Coal, the most carbon intensive fuel, currently supplies more than 50 percent of U.S. electricity generation. Fuel switching from coal to natural gas would overwhelm our already-constrained natural gas supplies and dramatically increase natural gas prices, causing deep economic pain for the more than 58 percent of American homes that are heated with natural gas and for American industries from chemicals to agriculture that are heavily dependent on natural gas.

The key to obtaining significant greenhouse gas reductions without causing severe economic disruption is to hasten the introduction of widely reliable, available and affordable CCS technologies. The Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act is designed to achieve that goal.

Recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency Advisory Panel

The programs established by H.R. 6258 flow directly from a January 2008 recommendation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Advanced Coal Technology Working Group. The ACT Group, consisting of experts drawn from industry, environment, government and labor organizations, deliberated for more than a year on strategies to reduce the environmental footprint of coal-based electric generation. It did not reach consensus on several issues, but it was unanimous in support of the objectives of our bill. Experts from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Carnegie Mellon University have called for similar, immediate efforts to expedite CCS deployment.

Early on, the ACT Group identified a nonbudget source of funding as a key strategy to accelerate the demonstration of CCS technologies. H.R. 6258 incorporates the ACT Group’s principal recommendation to use modest fees on fossil-based electricity to raise $1 billion annually during a 10-year period for this research and for the research to be managed by a nongovernmental corporation. Congress has enacted similar legislation to support research programs for propane gas and to advance promotional marketing for milk and dairy products.

The ACT Group estimates that the fees to be raised by H.R. 6258 will increase average household electric bills by less than $12 annually. While this is not a popular time to talk about raising consumer energy costs, the national benefits of retaining coal for low-cost domestic electric generation and avoiding the deep economic pain that would be the visited upon the entire nation if far-ranging carbon dioxide controls are put into place without the availability of CCS technology outweigh the small costs of this program.

An Essential Foundation for National Climate Legislation

The bill that my colleagues and I are advancing is a small but essential first step in the enactment of comprehensive climate control legislation. It is not a substitute for control legislation but a necessary predicate to it.

CCS technologies are critical to the nation’s ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while avoiding sharp increases in natural gas prices. It is also essential that CCS technologies be deployed globally in rapidly developing nations to avoid unacceptable future increases in global greenhouse gas emissions. Like the United States, India and China are highly dependent on their domestic coal resources. We must act urgently to accelerate the commercial development of CCS technologies, positioning our nation to comply with future greenhouse gas reductions and facilitating our ability to export CCS technologies globally. Business as usual is not an option. The passage of H.R. 6258 in the early weeks of the new Congress should be a matter of the highest priority.

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality.