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Senators Push Carbon-Capture Technology, Pinning Hopes on Trump

Bennet's challenger will be decided tonight. (Rob Kunzig/Morning Consult)

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced a bill promoting carbon-capture technology on Wednesday, reviving attempts to support a product that is not widely used but has the potential to cut emissions from coal plants and other facilities.

This is the second time Bennet has introduced the bill, along with Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), allowing businesses to use tax-exempt private activity bonds to fund the installation of technology that captures carbon dioxide and then injects it underground into oil fields in order to improve the oil recovery process.

The bill may not have an easy path forward, but proponents are hopeful President Donald Trump’s support for the coal industry will lead the administration to take a friendly stance toward a technology that could make coal competitive in a lower-carbon future.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement on Tuesday he hopes to take an approach to environmental policy that “focuses on technological innovation like CCS [carbon capture and storage] and clean coal initiatives without tax and regulatory policies that cost jobs,” after meeting with Brad Wall, the premier of Saskatchewan, Canada.

Allowing companies to use these bonds would give them access to more capital to invest in carbon-capture technology, Dan William Reicher, executive director of Stanford University’s Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, said in a phone interview.

Proponents of carbon-capture technology came up with the idea after NRG Energy was allowed to use private activity bonds to help finance a carbon-capture coal plant in Texas because it was in a special zone created by the federal government to encourage investment in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

“This is an unusual alliance of industry, unions, environmental groups and state officials who support CCS,” Reicher said. “That’s the sort of alliance the Trump administration will take note of, and hopefully support these policies.”

Bennet’s bill is one of several policies that Reicher and others would like Trump to embrace. A bipartisan group of senators led by Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) also tried unsuccessfully to get a measure on carbon-capture tax credits into last year’s spending bill. That legislation would have increased the value of tax credits that apply to the use of captured carbon-dioxide in oil recovery.

Both bills may face opposition from fiscal conservatives who typically do not support financial incentives for businesses to use cleaner but more expensive sources of energy. Neither Bennet’s nor Heitkamp’s bill was taken up by the Senate Finance Committee in the last congress. A spokesman for the committee’s chairman, Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), did not respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.