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Bipartisan bill seeks $4.9 billion for CCS infrastructure

23 March 2021 Karin Rives

Calling out the nation's lack of infrastructure to support a major expansion of carbon capture and storage projects, a bipartisan team of US lawmakers has introduced a bill authorizing $4.9 billion over five years to help finance and kickstart interstate pipelines and geologic "storage hubs" nationwide.

The bill, which would set up a comprehensive federal program to boost CCS development, comes as Congress has started to hold hearings on a broad infrastructure package, a priority for the Biden administration.

It creates a first-ever low-interest loan program for carbon transportation infrastructure that is modeled after similar congressionally created programs for highway and water infrastructure projects.

Introduced 17 March in both chambers of the US Congress, the Storing CO2 and Lowering Emissions (SCALE) Act zeroes in on an area of clean energy technology over which Republicans and Democrats have found rare common ground.

Possible legislative carrot

Senators Chris Coons, Democrat-Delaware, and Bill Cassidy, Republican-Louisiana, authored the bill in the US Senate, S. 799. Its companion measure in the US House of Representatives, H.R.1992, was penned by Representatives Marc Veasey, Democrat-Texas, and David McKinley, Republican-West Virginia

Some political observers say the bill could provide congressional Democrats with an attractive legislative carrot to attract GOP votes for the infrastructure package, which promises to be another round of contentious lawmaking.

Most climate and energy experts agree that scaled-up CCS is needed to help the world hold the global temperature increase from rising past 1.5 degrees Celsius, ideally, and to stabilize at "well below" 2 degrees Celsius, per the 2015 Paris Agreement—a priority for Democrats. But the evolving technology could also allow fossil fuel-heavy industry to continue operating without adding to climate change, which speaks to the interest of many Republicans.

Industry players have also signaled an interest in building out CCS infrastructure, most recently when BlackRock and Valero announced plans 16 March to build a 1,200-mile pipeline in the Midwest to carry carbon captured at Valero and other biofuel plants to a storage site in southern Illinois.

Buttigieg brings message to Congress

Infrastructure investments have typically been bipartisan, and while capturing and managing emissions from industrial plants is a new area, it's a fresh opportunity to bring together members of Congress, Brad Crabtree, president of the Carbon Capture Coalition, said in an interview 21 March.

The first test of that will come Thursday when Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg testifies before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee about the administration's plans for the nation's aging roads, bridges and public transit systems.

The CCS bill also has the backing of a broad coalition of labor groups, environmental advocates, think tanks and industry that include the Industrial Union Council AFL-CIO, the Bipartisan Policy Center, The Nature Conservancy and Occidental.

"Given that there is so much support for this—it's truly bipartisan and it really spans the geography, you have members from energy-producing states and well as from coastal states—I think that is very promising in terms of pulling together a broader set of members around [infrastructure] priorities," Crabtree said.

The unusual line-up of sponsors for the SCALE Act includes Democratic and Republican lawmakers who rarely agree on energy and environmental legislation.

In the Senate, the cosponsors are Democratic Sens. Tina Smith (Minn.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.)—all strong supporters of CO2 cuts—along with the more middle-of-the road Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Joe Manchin (W.Va.) The four GOP cosponsors are Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), Mike Braun (Ind.), John Hoeven (N.D.) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska).

In the House, Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), Pete Stauber (R-Minn.), Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), and Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) are supporting the legislation thus far.

Manchin, a key swing vote in the Senate, said the legislation would help accelerate the development of pipeline and storage infrastructure critical to the expansion of carbon sequestration and end-use markets. Such measures will support "thousands of clean energy, infrastructure and manufacturing jobs across the country, including in traditional energy producing communities like those in West Virginia," he added in a statement.

Tax dollars to leverage private investments

The SCALE Act would establish a new finance program for carbon transport infrastructure modeled after existing federal programs seeking to leverage private sector investments in highway and water infrastructure projects. In addition to low interest loans for carbon transport infrastructure projects, it would provide federal grants for front-end engineering and new carbon capture proposals that promise growth.

To build out storage sites, the legislation would expand the Department of Energy's CarbonSAFE program, which provides public-private cost-sharing for those projects, giving "priority to larger, commercial saline geologic storage projects that will serve as hubs for storing CO2 from multiple carbon capture facilities," according to a press release Coons issued last week.

It would also boost funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's permitting program for Class VI injection wells used to sequester CO2 in geologic rock formations, and provide grants for states that want to set up their own permitting programs. And to encourage commercial use of captured carbon for new products uses, the bill also authorizes new grants for states and local governments.

Bipartisan governors from fossil states cheer

The political appeal of the SCALE bill has drawn the support of Republican and Democratic governors from four states with large oil, natural gas and coal operations who weighed in with a 19 March letter urging Congress to include this legislation in its broader infrastructure package.

"The expansion of an interconnected [carbon dioxide] transport system will enable the transport of large volumes of CO2 from our nation's industrial facilities, power plants, and future large-scale direct air capture facilities to suitable saline geologic formations where it can be safely and permanently stored," said Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D), Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D), Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) and Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R). "The availability of this transport and storage network is urgently needed to accelerate the commercial deployment of carbon capture technologies to meet mid-century climate goals."


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