Senate panel passes Barrasso-Whitehouse carbon capture bill

Source: Christa Marshall, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Senate panel advanced legislation yesterday that aims to boost technologies removing carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions — and straight from regular air — by altering the Clean Air Act and other federal laws.

By voice vote, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a revised version of the “Utilizing Significant Emissions With Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act,” which would direct EPA to support carbon utilization and air capture research.

S. 2602 also would require the White House Council on Environmental Quality to establish guidance on CO2 pipelines and clarify that carbon removal projects qualify under the permitting review process established by the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act. That measure, signed by then-President Obama, authorized billions of dollars for infrastructure.

The amended version of the bill gained new sponsorship from ranking member Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.).

Original backers are Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). The same coalition supported legislation that passed Congress in February expanding tax credits for carbon storage.

“Innovation is how America will be a leader in reducing emissions,” Barrasso said. The manager’s amendment makes the text “stronger,” he said.

The updated bill adds environmental safeguards and public notice and comment periods for any guidance produced by CEQ on permitting, Carper said. It also would require EPA to consult with the Department of Energy to avoid duplication and would direct CEQ to produce a “robust” report that assesses regulatory gaps and provides information about the permitting process for project developers, he said.

“If we are going to truly address big issues like climate change, we’re going to have to find compromises that can work for both parties,” Carper said. He said he had assurance from Barrasso that the bill would not be a vehicle to attack the Clean Air Act.

Still, Natural Resources Defense Council Legislative Director Scott Slesinger said the text would give special treatment to one type of favored project and could lead to inadequate environmental reviews.

“Although Senator Carper and Senator Whitehouse have improved this section of the legislation since introduction, we still oppose the provision as it continues to push the false and harmful argument that environmental permitting is an obstacle to new industries and economic growth,” Slesinger said.

NRDC and other environmental groups sent a letter to the committee last month criticizing bill language they said would “sow confusion at best” (E&E Daily, April 12).

The bill has support from Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) and more than 20 groups, including the Western Governors’ Association, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Clean Air Task Force and Bipartisan Policy Center Action. Supporters say the legislation is needed to boost technologies critical to ensure global temperatures remain in check. It’s an important compliment to the Furthering carbon capture, Utilization, Technology, Underground storage and Reduced Emissions (FUTURE) Act that passed last year and doubled tax credits for carbon storage, they say.

“In passing this bill, EPW has taken another step toward establishing the U.S. as a major global player in commercializing carbon capture technologies,” said ClearPath Action Executive Director Rich Powell.

The Carbon Capture Coalition and the Energy Advance Center — a lobbying group that launched last month and includes Southern Co., BP PLC, Chevron Corp. and other oil interests — are also backing the bill.

In addition to its pipeline provisions, the legislation would set up a direct air capture technology advisory board, authorize $50 million for research on utilizing captured CO2 and establish a prize administrated by EPA to boost direct air capture technologies.

In a statement, the Carbon Capture Coalition — which includes 51 groups and companies — added that the bill would support collaboration between federal, state and nongovernmental interests to facilitate the planning and construction of pipeline systems transporting CO2.