New House ACCTION Act focuses on funding carbon capture and sequestration technology

By Jessica Ball posted 03-28-2014 12:59


Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced a bill on Monday proposing major legislative and authorizations support for carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) efforts applying to coal-fired power plants. The “Advanced Clean Coal Technology Investment in Our Nation (ACCTION) Act” makes generous authorizations for the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Carbon Capture Research and Development Program ($1,654,000,000 for FY 2015-2018, $5,283,000,000 for FY 2019-2025, and $3,300,000,000 for FY 2026-2035), and proposes a number of incentives for utility companies to reduce their carbon dioxide output.


Suggested incentives include increasing the accessibility of existing funds through the DOE’s Loan Guarantee Program for fossil energy, increasing tax credits for CCS, and creating clean energy bonds. The amounts authorized, equating to $413 million for each of the first four years and almost twice that much for the next seven, are far in excess of original Carbon Capture R&D program, which was last authorized for $35,000,000 in 2008. The plan is also in direct contrast to the administration’s FY2015 budget request, which contains an 8.8% cut for fossil energy research and completely defunds the Clean Coal Technology program at the DOE.


The subject of coal-fired power plants and carbon capture technology has always been a contentious one in Congress. The EPA is currently attempting to implement a new carbon emission rule that would only allow utilities to build new coal plants if they are able to capture 20 to 40 percent of the carbon they emit and store it underground. This new rule has faced vigorous opposition from members who argue that it will prevent job creation and eliminate existing jobs (resulting in the House Committee on Natural Resource’s “War on Coal” hearing and the House Science Committee’s “Investigation into EPA’s Secret Science” and “Science of Capture and Storage” hearings). In contrast, the EPA has argued that the rule will spur investment in CCS technology. (The rule does not currently apply to existing plants, but the EPA has also been directed to draw up standards for those facilities, which are responsible for about 40% of US carbon dioxide emissions, and it will likely use the new rule as a legal foundation.)


Few new coal-fired plants were being planned by utilities even before the rule was announced, as natural gas is emerging as a cheaper alternative, so there would likely not be much impact on new construction. However, current plants face bigger challenges, and the proposed legislation directs significant government resources to developing CCS technology for the purpose of keeping existing facilities open. Proponents of coal have argued that reducing the carbon output of coal-fired power plants to meet long-term environmental goals and keep coal part of the energy mix will preserve both jobs and a source of affordable electricity. In addition to funding federal research into CCS technology, the ACCTION Act would also offer federal incentives for private investment in clean coal tech and require the DOE to provide a comprehensive review of CCS R&D at National Labs and DOE offices and CCS infrastructure in the US and Canada.


The President’s Climate Action Plan recommends an “all-of-the-above” energy approach, which includes supporting clean coal research, but also advocates for switching away from coal to natural gas or renewable energy resources. Likewise, GSA’s position statement on the Role of Government in Mineral and Energy Resources Research recommends investment in research that will eventually mitigate the impact of and fuel a shift away from non-renewable, high-carbon energy sources like coal.