Trump EPA snubs carbon capture, an emissions reduction technique favored by environmentalists and Republicans

Source: By Josh Siegel, Washington Examiner • Posted: Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Trump Environmental Protection Agency is dismissing a technology that is favored by many Republicans and is widely considered to be among the most effective at slashing emissions from coal plants.

EPA’s Affordable Clean Energy, or ACE, rule, finalized last week to replace President Barack Obama’s signature climate change rule, the Clean Power Plan, does not include carbon capture and storage, also known as CCS, in a list of six technologies that utilities can consider to reduce carbon emissions and make their plants more efficient by burning less coal to produce the same amount of electricity.

The snub of carbon capture, critics say, shows the agency is not serious about combating climate change.

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“Based on the rejection of CCS, it’s hard to conclude the EPA leadership takes the job of regulating carbon pollution seriously,” said Julio Friedmann, a researcher who studies carbon capture at the Center for Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. Friedmann was formerly principal deputy assistant of the Energy Department’s Office of Fossil Energy in the Obama administration.

Carbon capture technology removes carbon dioxide from a power plant’s exhaust, so as to not release it into the atmosphere, and traps the emissions underground.

The EPA argues carbon capture has not been “adequately demonstrated” on a commercial scale and is too expensive.

“Our view of the law is that when states develop emissions limits, it cannot be based on carbon capture,” an EPA senior official told reporters on a press call this week.

To be sure, carbon capture is not considered very energy efficient. It requires a chunk of the energy produced by the power plant to run the capture and storage process. So to include carbon capture as part of a rule that aims to bolster coal plant efficiency doesn’t make sense.

“CCS could help continued participation of a coal unit, but not because it makes a unit more efficient,” said Christi Tezak, a managing director at ClearView, an energy research group.

But the problem, critics say, is that the EPA is wrong to only accept efficiency improvements at coal plants, because it’s an insufficient way to reduce carbon emissions.

The administration explicitly rejected the more expansive approach of the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan that would have required utilities to move away from coal and switch to natural gas or renewables in order to meet a national emissions limit. The ACE rule does not set any federal emissions limit.

While carbon capture was not part of the Clean Power Plan, the United Nations’ international climate panel considers the technology a crucial tool to fight climate change.

“Focusing solely on power plant efficiency as means of emissions reductions seems inadequate,” Friedmann said. “In order to achieve the kind of profound emissions reductions we need, carbon capture should be considered.”

The Trump EPA has snubbed carbon capture in other ways.

It is the process of revising another Obama-era rule regulating new coal plants, as opposed to existing ones, that would have effectively required plants be built with CCS.

The Trump EPA prefers to not require carbon capture, with the agency using the same argument that carbon capture is not viable or cheap enough.

Friedmann disagrees with EPA’s contention.

Carbon capture costs have dropped by more than 50% over the past 10 years, he said.

Eighteen large facilities around the world, including two at coal power plants, currently capture and store 30 million tons of carbon each year.

For example, the Petra Nova coal plant outside Houston, America’s only successfully running carbon capture facility, sends the carbon dioxide via pipeline to nearby oil fields, where it is used to assist in the extraction of crude oil. The sale of carbon dioxide as a commodity for use in products such as cement, plastics, fuel, and carbon fiber helps to offset the added cost of the CCS technology.

There are more carbon capture projects coming, encouraged by expanded tax credits passed into law in bipartisan votes in Congress last year and signed by President Trump.

“CCS has certainly been adequately demonstrated,” Friedmann said. “Many people said renewables were not cost effective until they were. We’ve heard this before and it does not square with our experience.”

EPA officials say they do not mean to slight carbon capture. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told reporters this week that coal plant operators would not be banned from installing carbon capture as part of the ACE rule. States are also free to encourage the use of carbon capture as part of carbon-free electricity mandates.

“It doesn’t preclude CCS from taking place,” Wheeler said of the ACE rule.

But carbon capture cannot qualify toward fulfilling whatever emissions limit states decide to impose to meet the requirements of the ACE rule.

EPA’s air office chief Bill Wehrum, the main author of the ACE rule, said carbon capture could still succeed without his agency promoting it.

“Our job is to let the markets do what they do best to improve efficiency, develop technology, and reduce emissions,” he said. “We are seeing technologies like carbon capture being developed today and they will continue being developed. This rule doesn’t get in the way of that.”