Climate Change News

Congress Considers Carbon Capture Options

Democrats and Republicans explore areas of potential agreement in combating climate change.


With Democrats in Congress pushing for climate change action on a number of fronts, including a series of hearings in the House on topics ranging from climate research to climate denialism, some Democrats and Republicans are looking for areas of common ground. They are exploring paths for winnable legislation during this congressional term on carbon dioxide (CO2) capture and other measures that would bring at least some moderate action on climate change.

Several recent forums addressed the potential for bipartisan agreement in a political climate bookended on one end by the far-reaching, Democrat-sponsored Green New Deal House resolution and on the other end by the administration’s plans for a National Security Council panel that Democrats charge represents another Trump administration effort to “run counter to the overwhelming scientific consensus on the causes and impacts of climate change.”

Senate Considers Carbon Capture and Storage Bill

One of those forums, a 27 February Senate hearing, highlighted bipartisan support for legislation to promote CO2 capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) methods and technologies. The bill, known as the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, or the USE IT Act, encourages carbon emissions reduction projects. The bill would improve the permitting process for CCUS infrastructure projects and establish technology prizes to spur innovation in projects to capture CO2 directly from the atmosphere.

The USE IT act “is a practical, commonsense piece of legislation to turn carbon dioxide emissions into valuable products” such as transportation fuels and other industrial products, said Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, which held the hearing.

Barrasso, who said the word “bipartisan” was used so often during the hearing that he stopped counting at 20 instances, called the USE IT Act a good follow-on to the bipartisan Furthering Carbon Capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground Storage, and Reduced Emissions (FUTURE) Act. That bill, which President Donald Trump signed into law in 2018, improves so-called 45Q tax incentives for CCUS and direct air capture. Barrasso cited the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which became law in January, as another bipartisan effort to curb emissions.

“America should reduce emissions through innovation, not punishing government regulations,” Barrasso said. In later remarks to reporters, Barrasso took a direct dig at the Green New Deal, saying that it “just drives a stake through the heart of the American economy [and] doesn’t deal with the issues globally.”

At the hearing, committee member Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a climate change skeptic, voiced his support for the CCUS bill as well. “I didn’t get on this bill [as a cosponsor] until today because I didn’t want my appearance on this bill to chase off any of the others that were on this thing,” he said.

Part of the Solution

Democrats and several witnesses at the hearing called the CCUS legislation a good effort but said that much more needs to be done.

CCUS is “one of the many ways we can work together to find solutions, and then craft legislation to support win-win policies that address climate change while enhancing job creation and economic growth,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the committee’s ranking member. He added, though, “We will need a comprehensive approach, using every tool in our toolbox to address this issue. To make that major shift toward a clean energy economy, R&D [research and development] and other federal investments, tax incentives, smart regulations, and all other policies that harness market forces must be on the table, too.”

Kurt Waltzer, managing director of the Clean Air Task Force, a Boston-based nonprofit, speculated at the hearing that that if the economics are favorable, by 2040 there could be significant deployment of CCUS technology. The development and deployment of technologies such as CCUS are “critical to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change,” he said.

Committee member Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) commented on what he termed a practical bipartisan measure to reduce carbon. “This is how we should be working to try to make progress where we can,” he said. “It’s science-driven decision making.”

Frank Maisano, an energy expert observing the hearing, told Eos that the bill shows that senators on both sides of the aisle “are interested in moving forward on things that they can use to address climate change and offer solutions that will move the economy forward.” Maisano is a principal at the Policy Resolution Group at Bracewell, a Washington, D.C.–based law and government relations firm serving the oil and gas, power, and other industries.

Other Near-Term Bipartisan Options

At a 28 February forum on near-term federal actions to address climate change, speakers, including Sen. Carper and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), discussed a range of areas for potential bipartisan support during this term of Congress. Bob Perciasepe, president of the Arlington, Va.–based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, said that although there is much healthy conversation about the Green New Deal, carbon taxes, and other mechanisms, “there are still things that we can be doing now in the near term that keep us moving in the right path.”

Among those issues outlined in a new policy brief released by the group are promoting CCUS, strengthening technology innovation efforts, supporting advanced energy and transportation solutions, reducing short-lived climate pollutants, and boosting energy efficiency.

“There are real ideas that can make a difference, they have bipartisan support now, and they have business support now,” Perciasepe said. “They are not the ultimate answer, but they are in the right direction.”

At that same forum, Rep. Rooney highlighted carbon tax legislation, but he also acknowledged that there is a “very narrow space” for Republicans regarding many environmental issues.

Following his formal comment, Rooney told reporters that he doesn’t know why it’s so hard for Republicans to get behind more environmental measures. “I don’t know what kind of brainwashing has been accomplished by special interests,” he said.

Rooney said, though, that he hopes for passage of carbon tax legislation and other measures “that could bend the curve at least down to Paris”—the Paris climate accord goals—“or maybe a little below.”

He added that the Green New Deal “has given a window for Republicans to say, ‘You know, this is really out there. Let’s do the here and now, the things that we can accomplish.’ It’s made a carbon tax much more acceptable, I think, to Republican ideology.”

—Randy Showstack (@RandyShowstack), Staff Writer

Citation: Showstack, R. (2019), Congress considers carbon capture options, Eos, 100, Published on 05 March 2019.
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