May 26, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Rare climate bipartisanship emerges on carbon storage, air capture

Earth rolls up to the front of congress

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Bills aimed at trapping industrial carbon emissions or pulling CO2 directly from the atmosphere are piling up in Congress — and instead of the usual gridlock, some of them may actually gain momentum.

Why it matters: Scientists say that these emerging technologies, neither of which is economically available at scale, are going to be needed in potentially large amounts in order for the U.S. to go from the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to a nation that absorbs more carbon than it releases.

Driving the news: Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) introduced on Wednesday morning the Carbon Capture Improvement Act to help power plants and industrial facilities to finance carbon capture and storage equipment as well as more unproven direct air capture projects.

How it works: The bill would permit businesses to use private activity bonds, which local and state governments currently have access to, in order to finance a carbon capture project.

  • These bonds have tax advantages over other financing mechanisms, and have previously been used for installing pollution control systems at power plants, according to a summary from the lawmakers.
  • The bill would also allow facilities to use an existing tax credit, known as 45Q, for capturing industrial emissions.
  • “Carbon capture and direct air capture are common-sense technologies that will allow states like Ohio to continue to utilize our natural resources while protecting our environment at the same time," Portman said in a statement.

State of play: In addition to these new technologies, climate resilience measures are also gaining bipartisan support. On Tuesday, Bennet introduced a bill called the "Shelter Act," along with Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.), that would create a disaster mitigation tax credit for Americans to help make their home or business more resilient to extreme weather events.

  • Due to human-caused climate change, certain types of extreme events, such as heavy precipitation events, heat waves, wildfires and hurricanes are becoming more intense and destructive.
  • In an interview with Axios Tuesday, Bennet said both bills are about "common sense."
  • "I'm glad that it's bipartisan," he said of the Shelter Act. "But what's also interesting to me about it is how we how different the regions are here. Bill is doing it because he's freaked out about floods. And I'm doing it because I'm freaked out about fires."

The big picture: Bennet says new technologies like direct air capture, which may include everything from synthetic trees to enhancing the ability of natural systems to soak up carbon, are drawing bipartisan interest because they address both climate change and jobs.

  • "If you believe that climate change is real, that's a reason you want to address it," Bennet said.
  • "And if you're worried about the potential dislocation of people" working in fossil fuel sectors, that's another reason you want to address it," he added.

Context: The Bennet-Portman bill joins a list of pending bills to remove impediments standing in the way of developing new technologies to capture and store carbon or encourage new technologies to enable direct air capture to work.

  • Also on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of House members introduced a bill known as the the Catch Act, which would make changes to the 45Q tax credits in order to make them available to new types of projects. The bill would also boost the credit levels available.
  • Another bill with bipartisan backing is the Scale Act, introduced in March by Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Cassidy and Reps. Marc Veasy (D-Texas) and David McKinley (R-W. Va.) — which would help support the buildout of more comprehensive carbon capture infrastructure, to include transporting carbon dioxide from where it is captured to where it could be stored or used in manufacturing.

Be smart: Providing incentives for carbon capture has a recent track record, with 45Q in place since 2018. They also don't stir up the same GOP opposition as emissions mandates do.

Yes, but: Betting the under on the passage of any particular bipartisan climate legislation is usually a smart play, despite some recent action on super-greenhouse gases in late 2020 and 45Q.

  • This time around, though, an infrastructure package could become a vehicle for moving some of these bills.
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