CCS Recommendations Hit President’s Desk

Last week, the Obama Administration’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) released its final report and recommendations. President Obama created the task force, co-chaired by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and involving 14 executive departments and federal agencies, in February. The President’s directive charged the task force with delivering “a proposed plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with a goal of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.”

This post highlights a few aspects of the task force’s report. Most importantly, the task force found that, while current government efforts are expected to bring the desired number of demonstration projects online by 2016, the critical policy necessary for widespread deployment of CCS—a policy, such as a greenhouse gas (GHG) cap-and-trade program, that establishes long-term emission reduction requirements and spurs private investment in CCS and other low-carbon technologies—is lacking.

CCS involves a set of technologies to capture CO2 from power plants or industrial sources, transport the captured CO2 (usually in pipelines), and permanently sequester it in geologic formation (for more information, see the Pew Center’s Climate Techbook CCS brief). The Task Force’s report summarizes the current status of CCS technology; it notes that industrial facilities have captured CO2 gas streams since the 1930s, that U.S. pipelines have transported CO2 for nearly 40 years, and that four commercial-scale operations are currently sequestering CO2 in deep geologic formations. The report also highlights how CCS could play a substantial role in decarbonizing the U.S. and global economies, in particular by reducing CO2 emissions from new and existing coal-fired power plants (see, for example, this recent modeling from the Electric Power Research Institute that projects fossil fuels coupled with CCS  would provide about a third of total U.S. electricity by 2050 under a market-based climate policy). Recent proposed climate and energy legislation has included provisions to support the development and deployment of CCS.

The task force reports widespread deployment of CCS will require that four key issues be overcome: (1) existing market failures; (2) legal and regulatory challenges related to the capture, transportation, and storage of CO2; (3) long-term liability regarding storage of CO2; and (4) public information, education, and outreach. The task force notes current and proposed policies to address these barriers and concerns, recommends actions that the executive branch can take with existing authority to address some of them, and highlights areas where Congressional action is necessary.

While the task force did report that in the United States up to 10 integrated CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE (in large part via $3.4 billion in funding for CCS in the 2009 economic stimulus bill; see Table V-2 of the task force’s report for the list of 7 power-sector and 3 industrial planned CCS projects receiving DOE support) are intended to begin operation by 2016, the task force also found that the most important step for widespread commercial deployment of CCS has yet to be taken. That step is a U.S. climate policy designed to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Such a policy will create a stable, long-term framework for private investments in CCS and other low-carbon technologies. To illustrate this point, the task force explains that private-sector sponsors of CCS projects are undertaking these projects in anticipation of requirements to reduce GHG emissions, and the continuing uncertainty regarding such requirements is “the foremost economic challenge to these projects.”

While Congress has not yet acted to provide such long-term certainty for the private sector to engage in widespread, large-scale deployment of CCS, the task force does recommend additional near-term actions the executive branch can take to facilitate currently planned and subsequent CCS projects, including:

  • Creation of a CCS federal agency roundtable to act as a single point of contact to help project developers overcome financial, technical, regulatory, and social barriers facing planned or existing projects and to provide technical support to permitting authorities and permit applicants;
  • Rapid proposal, finalization, and implementation of agency regulations relevant to CCS, such as EPA’s geologic CO2 sequestration permitting regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act and a regulatory framework for geologic CO2 storage under federal onshore and offshore lands;
  • Enhanced and coordinated public outreach to raise awareness of CCS, including a public CCS information clearinghouse and a comprehensive outreach strategy between the federal government, industry, and NGOs.

The task force also describes options for creating a comprehensive, regulatory framework for CCS and addressing concerns over long-term liability for stored CO2—both of which are issues that will likely require the attention of Congress in order for CCS to achieve widespread commercial deployment.

The report also highlights the need for robust emissions measurement and monitoring methodologies for CCS projects. We recently initiated a stakeholder-driven process to address this need that will produce a technical framework to quantify the emissions reductions from CCS projects.

The task force's report emphasizes that the progress the government is making in promoting the development and initial demonstration of CCS is not nearly enough to spur widespread commercial deployment. CCS, like other low-carbon technologies, needs a long-term driver of private investment—the best such driver is a price on carbon as provided by a GHG cap-and-trade program.

Steve Caldwell is a Technology and Policy Fellow