Hill warms to CO2 air capture technologies

Source: By Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter • Posted: Sunday, November 3, 2019

Former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz predicted yesterday that Congress’ climate change focus may shift within the next year to include more bipartisan backing to bolster the federal government’s role in direct air capture research, development and deployment.

In remarks during a panel at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., the Obama-era official said he has been in active conversations with lawmakers about bolstering research funding for the technologies largely heralded as critical to keeping global temperatures within the boundaries set in the Paris climate agreement by pulling existing carbon from the atmosphere.

“Frankly, in our discussions on the Hill for example, including very, very recently … this is getting real attention,” Moniz said.

“I believe, as usual, the pace is often not the one we want, but I believe we will see, next year even, commitments being made much more strongly in this direction by the Congress, and I suspect with strong support from at least most of the energy industry — clean and traditional,” he added.

Moniz’s energy think tank, the Energy Futures Initiative, issued a report in September that outlined potential policy pathways to the development of carbon removal technologies (Energywire, Sept. 24).

That report suggested a $10.7 billion spending action plan spread across a decade to boost R&D spending in the energy and agriculture spheres, among other federal agencies, to tackle technologies including industrial and biological research options.

Late last year, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that a pivotal path to avoid the worst of the impending climate crisis was through the increased use of direct air capture technology to achieve negative emissions.

That technology remains in its infancy, with high costs and lack of widespread use. And it’s not without its detractors.

Some climate advocates have said spending dollars on technology is a cover to enable fossil fuel companies to continue production unabated.

“Some will say that’s just the way of making the world safe for fossil fuels. Others will emphasize this is the only way we are going to get to zero, and maybe eventually even negative zero,” Moniz said.

“I view that discussion almost as a plus because it does indicate that the ground has been prepared for a very, very broad political coalition.”

Movement already

Congress, especially the Senate, has started to dip its toes into direct air capture proposals.

The most advanced piece of legislation on that front comes from Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and climate hawk Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), among others, as part of a broader bill, S. 383, to advance carbon capture.

The proposal would authorize some $35 million to form a direct air capture advisory board at EPA and offer prize money for design and demonstration projects.

The measure’s bipartisan backing means it joins other proposals that could rise in must-pass legislative packages, including the highway and defense authorization efforts.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources ranking member Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), meanwhile, helped move a bill out of committee to reshuffle and beef up the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy for a carbon capture-related “moon shot.”

The bill, S. 1201, would authorize $181 million total through fiscal 2024 for a new Carbon Removal Program within that office.

While those bills would authorize funding, Senate appropriators have already set allocations for DOE to begin research as part of its fiscal 2020 Energy-Water spending bill, S. 2470.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the chairman and ranking member on the Energy and Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee, respectively, provided $20 million to DOE for direct air capture research.

That money goes with a mandate to form a cross-office development program with support from the Office of Fossil Energy and the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.