A Senate bill to boost technologies for storing carbon dioxide underground is getting a closer look in the Democratic-controlled House and could be emerging as the best chance for passing bipartisan climate legislation this year.
The legislation (S. 383)—back in the spotlight as part of a GOP climate bill package unveiled by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.)—would boost research into far-off technologies to capture carbon emissions directly from the air and for re-using carbon dioxide in cement and steel production.
Most climate scientists and policy officials agree that carbon capture technologies, including direct air capture systems, are needed to avert catastrophic global warming. They also agree that the technology needs federal backing to blunt the financial and technical risks of investing in carbon capture technology.
The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies (USE IT) Act was attached to the Senate’s fiscal 2020 defense bill with Democratic support. But House Democrats complained the bill had been rushed with no hearing in that chamber and struck the language.
But some House Democrats could be willing to talk now.
“Members have raised concerns about the language, but are willing to engage with the Senate on the concepts as part of a larger package of related provisions,” a House senior Democratic aide said.
Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) and Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee Chairman Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.) held a hearing Feb. 6 on the House version (H.R. 1166). They praised the measure introduced by Reps. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.) while calling for tweaks.
Tonko said after the hearing that he “absolutely” sees the USE IT bill moving with certain changes, possibly packaged with other climate bills. The Energy Department should have a larger role in overseeing the bill’s carbon capture research efforts, Tonko and Pallone said at the hearing.
The White House has yet to weigh in, but the Trump administration has generally backed carbon capture efforts under its pro-coal agenda. Trump’s fiscal 2021 budget plan touts the technologies as a way to “ensure that the existing coal power generation fleet is greener and more efficient than ever before.”
Trump allies from oil and coal states, including Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va) and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), back the measure, as do Shell, Arch Coal, and the American Petroleum Institute.
Environment, Industry Backing
The Senate USE IT Act has several Democratic cosponsors, including Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.), the top Democrat on the environment panel, and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a leading voice for climate action.
An aide for Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), who introduced the bill, said previous versions consistently have had bipartisan support
The oil and gas industry, as well as the National Wildlife Federation and the National Audubon Society, are on board with the USE IT Act in part because it would accelerate research on technologies that pull carbon dioxide from the ambient air and store it underground or in commercial products, including steel and other building materials.
Federal backing of research is considered critical by the bill’s backers as direct air capture is still in its earliest stages.
The measure “will help lay the groundwork for development of new technologies, industries, jobs, and markets for captured carbon that expand beyond current use and geologic storage of carbon dioxide,” Shannon Heyck-Williams, the National Wildlife Federation’s director of climate and energy policy, said.
Broader carbon capture legislation could be wrapped into an energy package that Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) hopes to move to the floor. Murkowski told members of the Alaska Legislature Feb. 18 that she plans to introduce the package this week.
The energy package includes the Enhancing Fossil Fuel Energy Carbon Technology Act (S. 1201), backed by Murkowski and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), the committee’s top Democrat. It would direct the Energy Department to support coal and natural gas demonstration projects including large-scale carbon sequestration technologies.
The energy committee advanced it in September but it will likely need to be attached to broader legislation such as Murkowski’s energy package to move.
Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, a top Republican on the Senate’s bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, said carbon capture incentives are a likely area of compromise that the caucus will embrace. Braun said he’s hoping to have climate legislation that has the group’s backing teed up over the next six months.
House Democrats are also embracing other carbon capture bills in the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, which in July 2019 advanced the Fossil Energy Research and Development Act (H.R. 3607) by Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas) to expand Energy Department carbon capture research and demonstration programs.
Carbon capture and storage has its critics among some climate advocates, who argue the bulk of incentives including tax credits thus far have gone to the oil and gas industry industry efforts that use carbon dioxide to extract hard-to-reach fossil fuel deposits.
But Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), the energy committee’s top Republican, said carbon capture efforts—from the USE IT bill to extending carbon capture tax credits—are “good, common-sense policy” that can pass in a divided government.