In February, President Donald Trump signed landmark legislation into law offering major tax credits for fossil fuel companies that capture and store or recycle carbon emissions. And while some environmentalists will surely cry foul, the new credits may jump-start a new wave of innovation in carbon capture and storage technologies that could eventually help pave the way for global-scale carbon dioxide mitigation from fossil fuels.
It’s easy to simply shout “no more coal” at the mere mention of CCS or other clean coal technology, but the reality is that even with the rapid rise of renewable energy, coal is going to be part of the energy mix in the United States and much of the rest of the world for quite some time. And many experts, such as the International Energy Agency, believe that the world cannot possibly meet global carbon and temperature goals without rapid, large-scale CCS deployment. Since that’s the case, the United States should take the lead in CCS development and reap both the environmental and economic benefits.
The new tax credits, called 45Q, are a step in the right direction. Companies will receive a $50 credit for each ton of carbon dioxide stored underground, and $35 per ton of recycled carbon, with no cap on the amount of credits. In addition, the Department of Energy is continuing a program called the Carbon Storage Assurance and Facility Enterprise, which offers grants for carbon storage research and development. In May, $29.6 million was awarded to three projects to continue this important research.
Furthermore, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, in a recent speech on our “New Energy Realism,” reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to clean power and demonstrated the critical role of innovation in building our energy future. By investing in innovations like CCS and renewable technologies, Perry noted that “we don’t have to choose between growing our economy and caring for our environment.”
Even many Democrats — long hostile to CCS — are now becoming part of the solution. In March, Democratic Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) joined with Republicans John Barrasso (Wyo.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) to introduce legislation that would further advance CCS development. This is a welcome shift in attitudes as more policymakers from the left come to recognize the importance of cleaner fossil fuel technologies as we continue the shift toward renewables.
We are on the right track, however. Last year, renewables accounted for over 17 percent of U.S. electricity generation. And renewables’ share of energy consumption has doubled in the last 10 years, while coal has declined from 48 percent down to 30 percent. While not as steep a decline as many would like, that’s still progress.
Meanwhile, large countries such as India and China, while taking concrete steps to move toward renewables, will also continue to be reliant on coal, as will emerging economies throughout Africa, Asia and Latin America. The fact that India has one of the world’s largest coal reserves while also being one of the top importers starkly illustrates the need for rapid development of CCS while economies migrate toward renewable energy sources.
The world’s continuing need for coal also presents an economic opportunity for the countries and companies that can perfect CCS technologies. If the United States wins the race, we can export our technology to both grow our economy and help other nations make deep cuts in their carbon emissions, a clear win-win. That’s why American innovation in carbon capture and storage is just as important as new investments in renewables.
Zero-carbon, renewable energy is certainly the future. But we’re not there yet. Until we are, the United States must take the lead in development, deployment and exporting of CCS technology. It’s the only option to ensure the future health of our economy and the global environment.
Demetrios Karoutsos is a political and public affairs strategist.
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