Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), one of the House’s biggest coal supporters, on Tuesday reintroduced a bill that would invest billions of dollars in the development of carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) technology for fossil-fuel power plants.
Like a similar measure Boucher introduced last year, the “Carbon Capture and Storage Early Deployment Act” would create a $1 billion annual fund for CCS development, drawn from a fee paid by utilities that burn coal, natural gas, and oil. The utilities would likely pass those fees on to consumers; the bill’s sponsors estimate that the cost for an average residential consumer would be $10 to $12 per year.
An industry-managed board would administer the funds, providing grants and contracts to governmental, academic, and private entities to help research, develop, and commercialize CCS technologies.
“Coal is America’s most abundant domestic fuel, and today, coal accounts for more than one-half of the fuel used for electricity generation,” said Boucher as he rolled out the new bill. “Given our large coal reserves, its lower cost in comparison with other fuels, and the inadequate availability of fuel alternatives, preservation of the ability of electric utilities to continue coal use is essential.”
The bill has bipartisan cosponsorship, including support from Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking minority member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and Fred Upton (R-Mich.), ranking member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee. All of the 14 cosponsors are from states that either mine coal or rely heavily on coal for electricity.
In an interview with Grist before the bill was formally introduced, Upton said that funding for CCS will be key to keeping coal in the energy mix going forward. “A number of us were very disappointed that [this bill] didn’t move [last year],” said Upton. “We’ve only put online about one coal plant a year for the past 20 years. Wall Street is stopping them all without this [CCS] technology, so we need to move forward.”
Barton — a vocal skeptic of climate change — also spoke in favor of the measure several weeks ago at a subcommittee hearing on the “Future of Coal.” He criticized the panel’s chair, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), for wanting to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, but said, “If we can get coal right in America, Mr. Markey can be happy and I can be happy, and all God’s children can be happy.”
As you might guess, the coal industry has plenty of nice things to say about the new CCS bill. It could be a bright spot in what is increasingly looking like a dim future for the dirtiest of all fossil fuels.
Anti-coal activism has been on the rise in recent months, and the Obama administration has started cracking down on problems related to coal. Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency moved to begin regulating coal-ash waste ponds at power plants around the country, and on Tuesday, the EPA put the breaks on hundreds of mountaintop-removal coal-mining permits, saying the projects’ impact on waterways needs to be evaluated.