Members of the Republican congressional caucus have offered a slate of bills to expand subsidies for and research into carbon-capture and sequestration.
The Republican bills do not propose carbon taxes, cap-and-trade schemes, or establish targets for reducing carbon dioxide emissions, unlike climate change bills offered by Democrats.
Capture and Sequestration
The idea behind carbon-capture and sequestration is to attach technologies and systems to fossil-fuel-powered electricity generating plants to capture their carbon dioxide emissions or remove carbon dioxide from the air and then convert it to liquid or solid form, or purify it in its gaseous state and ship it through pipeline, rail, or on trucks to be sequestered underground.
The New Energy Frontiers Through Carbon Innovation Act of 2020 would direct the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to establish a “a carbon utilization research hub and a program for the research, development, and demonstration of commercially viable technologies for the capture of carbon dioxide produced during the production of natural gas-generated power.”
The Carbon Capture Usage and Storage Act proposes extending existing DOE grant, loan, and tax deferral programs to “carbon capture, utilization, or storage projects, such as pipelines and direct air capture,” and would streamline and expedite the permitting of carbon dioxide pipelines and associated infrastructure.
Economic, Practical Concerns
The federal government has subsidized the development and operation of carbon capture pilot projects already, and the technology has proven expensive, ineffective, unreliable, and economically unviable, says Steve Milloy, founder of JunkScience.com.
“While it is technologically possible to capture and inject carbon dioxide from smokestacks underground, the process is very expensive, diverts energy from the grid to operate the carbon capture and storage process, and can’t be accomplished on a large, utility scale,” Milloy said. “The federal government and private utilities have already wasted close to $10 billion on failed carbon capture and storage projects, with little-to-no carbon dioxide having been stored for all the money spent.
“In addition, it’s is unlikely there is enough space to store large amounts of carbon dioxide underground permanently,” Milloy said. “It has been estimated storing the carbon dioxide from just one large coal-fired power plant would require an underground area the size of the state of Maryland, and we had more than 350 coal-powered units across the United States in 2017, so where’s the carbon dioxide going to go?”
Expanding Oil Recovery Credit
A third Republican climate bill, the Enhanced Carbon [Di]-Oxide Sequestration Tax Credit Act of 2020, would increase and make permanent a tax credit already given to oil companies for pumping compressed carbon dioxide underground to enhance oil recovery (EOR).
Oil producers have used carbon dioxide for decades to increase production from and extend the life of marginal wells. It is unclear whether the carbon dioxide pumped underground through these operations is permanently sequestered.
The bill would increase the tax credit for carbon dioxide captured from the air by 25 percent, resulting in a credit of $43.75 per ton when used for enhanced oil and gas recovery.
This is bill is an unnecessary gift to the oil industry, Milloy says.
“EOR often makes economic sense, with the oil produced covering the additional cost of using carbon dioxide to recover it,” Milloy said. “Operators already receive a federal tax credit of $35 per ton when they use this recovery method, thus there is no need, and certainly no climate justification, for additional support.
“Indeed, increased use of EOR will, on balance, increase carbon dioxide levels, because the additional oil recovered, when it is burned, will produce more carbon dioxide than the amount pumped underground to enhance well production,” Milloy said.
No Electoral Gain
Past Republican efforts to push climate policies have not paid them dividends at the ballot box, says James Taylor, director of the Arthur B. Robinson Center for Climate and Environmental Policy at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News.
“Before the 2018 midterm elections, 43 Republicans were part of the Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus (CSC), a bipartisan coalition of federal legislators that supported climate change reduction policies such as increased taxes on electricity, gas, and oil, and increased regulation of the coal, natural gas, and oil industries,” Taylor said. “After the votes had been counted, more than half of Republican members of the CSC had lost their seats.
“It is completely unsurprising less than half the Republican CSC members were returned to Congress in 2019,” Taylor said. “The lesson Republicans should have taken away from those results, but evidently haven’t, is that Republicans attempting to appease the Left will never gain enough support from the Left to offset the depressing impact their betrayal of conservative values has upon the Republican voter base.”
‘Will Not Endorse’
As if confirming Taylor’s argument, the political action committee Club for Growth announced in a press release it would not support any candidate who proposes or endorses climate policies that grow government intervention in energy markets through regulations, subsidies, or taxes.
“Club for Growth PAC will not endorse any candidate that supports the liberal environmental policies being pushed by [House minority] leader [Rep.] McCarthy [R-CA] and Senator [Mitt] Romney [R-UT],” said David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth PAC. “Besides hurting our economy, these measures will not make a single environmentalist vote for a Republican and only alienate conservatives across the country.
“America’s economy is booming because of the tax cuts and deregulation under President Trump, and Republicans should consider free-market legislation to increase growth as opposed to trying to get the political support of green socialists,” McIntosh said.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.
James Taylor, Policy Brief: The Congressional Climate Solutions Caucus: A Leftist Betrayal of Republican Voters, The Heartland Institute, October 4, 2018: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/the-congressional-climate-solutions-caucus-a-leftist-betrayal-of-republican-voters