A few months ago, the debate about greenhouse gas policy in Washington was in the Senate focused on Lieberman-Warner. That effort ultimately failed, as a good idea (reduce GHG emissions within a market framework) got turned into a really crummy bill. Good intentions were bedeviled by lousy execution. Conventional wisdom says that the next effort to develop a U.S. GHG plan will emerge from the House, and specifically from the House Energy committee.
This week, we got our first look at where their priorities lie, and it is not pretty. If there was any lesson taken from L-W’s failure, it seems to have been that if your long-term goal is a crummy bill, you might as well just skip the whole good intentions part.
E&E Daily ($ub. req’d) reports on H.R. 6528,
[a] bipartisan effort by Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) and ranking member Fred Upton (R-Mich.) to give a quick boost of financial support for large-scale carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology projects, rather than relying on the few funds currently available or the billions of dollars that might exist from auction revenues 10 to 15 years down the line if a cap-and-trade bill passes.
Notwithstanding the economic and environmental goofiness of CCS, I suppose one could argue that the immaturity of the technology demands research, and research is a good use of government funds. However, that research still has to be funded, evaluated, and publicized.
How ought we pay for this research? Federal funds? Nope. State funds? Nein. Taxes on polluters? Non assolutamente!
the bill would make power companies that use coal, natural gas and oil pay fees to set up the 10-year $1 billion annual fund. The companies could pass on those fees to their customers, adding about $10 to $12 to residential customers’ annual rates, according to Boucher.
Sweet! Rate payers! Or — to take this out of utility-speak — you, dear electricity-user. No burden on federal coffers. Better still, no burden on utility dividend distributions.
So we get $1 billion/year to research a dubious technology, funded in a manner that will maintain full profit margins for inefficient, carbon-intensive electric producers.
Now we get to the next question: Who should oversee this research? Someone has to evaluate which projects are worthy of pursuit, which research organizations are qualified to do said research, publicize results, change courses as appropriate, etc. We also ought to make sure that any negative results are publicized as well, so that research dollars can be shifted if it turns out that CCS isn’t a good idea. That argues pretty strongly for a non-partisan entity with strong scientific credentials. After all, this is your money, and we’ll want to make sure that it is both well-spent and doesn’t have any whiffs of impropriety. One could think of any number of qualified facilities to oversee said research, from national labs to non-profits to the IPCC.
Again, Nay, Nein, Non:
The bill would setup a Carbon Storage Research Corporation — after approval by two-thirds of fossil-fuel based utilities — under the auspices of the industry-backed Electric Power Research Institute to distribute the funds to projects by private, academic and government organizations.
Ah, EPRI. Shill for the electric industry, funded historically by the nation’s investor owned utilities and consistently predisposed to believe that (a) utility profits are sacrosanct; (b) utility capital allocation is optimal, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding; and therefore (c) all climate solutions must require R&D, not policy reform. A group so transparently biased that its model for a carbon-constrained world is one that is dominated by coal-combustion.
This isn’t a case of inviting predators into the henhouse, but one of ignoring the hens completely and moving in with the foxes.
This bill was so transparently written by the coal and electric lobbies that it probably has no chance of passing. But it’s awfully disappointing to see this come out of Boucher’s office, who had previously done such a good job with encouraging more responsible approaches in Subtitle E (written by his staff) in the 2007 Energy Bill. But the big concern is that this is the first foray into climate policy by the House. For the good of everyone but the coal lobby, this better not be indicative of their approach to more all-encompassing GHG policy.