Federal Task Force Concludes CCS is Viable, But Carbon Price Is Critical; Sends Recommendations to President Obama on Fostering the Technology

President Obama’s Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), co-chaired by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE), delivered a series of recommendations to the president on overcoming the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years.

The report concludes that while CCS can play an important role in domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions thereby preserving the option of using coal and other abundant domestic fossil energy resources, it faces a key barrier in the lack of a price on carbon.

The lack of comprehensive climate change legislation is the key barrier to CCS deployment. Without a carbon price and appropriate financial incentives for new technologies, there is no stable framework for investment in low-carbon technologies such as CCS. Significant Federal incentives for early deployment of CCS are in place, including RD&D efforts to push CCS technology development, and market-pull mechanisms such as tax credits and loan guarantees. However, many of these projects are being planned by the private sector in anticipation of requirements to reduce GHG emissions, and the foremost economic challenge to these projects is ongoing policy uncertainty regarding the value of GHG emissions reductions.

—Report of the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage

In February 2010, the president charged the task force with proposing a plan to overcome the barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of carbon capture and storage within 10 years, with a goal of bringing five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016.

The United States has already made the largest government investment in carbon capture and storage of any nation, the DOE says, and these investments are being matched by private capital. DOE is currently pursuing multiple demonstration projects using close to $4 billion in federal funds, matched by more than $7 billion in private investments, which it says will begin to pave the way for widespread deployment of advanced CCS technologies within a decade. Ongoing EPA efforts will clarify the existing regulatory framework by developing requirements tailored for CCS, which will reduce uncertainty for early projects and help to ensure safe and effective deployment.

The report reflects input from 14 federal agencies and departments as well as hundreds of stakeholders and CCS experts. It addresses the incentives for CCS adoption and any financial, economic, technological, legal, institutional, or other barriers to deployment. The task force also considered how best to coordinate existing federal authorities and programs, as well as identify areas where additional federal authority may be necessary.

The report’s main findings and recommendations include:

  • CCS is Viable: There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology.

  • A Carbon Price is Critical: Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS is best achieved with a carbon price, but there are market drivers and actions that can and are taking place now, which are essential to support near-term CCS demonstration projects that will pave the way for broader deployment after a carbon price is in place.

  • Federal Coordination should be Strengthened: With additional federal actions and coordination, the task force believes our nation can meet the president’s near-term goal and get 5-10 commercial demonstration CCS demonstration projects online by 2016. The report recommends the creation of a standing federal agency roundtable and expert committee to facilitate that goal.

  • Recommendations on Liability: The task force conducted an in-depth analysis of options to address concerns that long-term liability could be a barrier to CCS deployment. It concluded that open-ended federal indemnification is not a viable alternative but that four approaches merit further consideration: relying on existing frameworks, limits on claims, a trust fund, and transfer of liability to the federal government (with contingencies). Efforts to improve long-term liability and stewardship frameworks led by EPA, DOE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) will continue in order to provide evaluation and recommendations in these areas by late 2011.

Additional recommendations include setting up an effort by DOE and EPA—in consultation with other agencies—to track regulatory implementation for early commercial CCS demonstration projects and consider whether additional statutory revisions are needed.

The report also encourages leveraging existing efforts among federal agencies, states, industry, and NGOs to gather information and evaluate potential key concerns about CCS in different areas of the United States and develop a comprehensive outreach strategy that would include: (1) a broad plan for public outreach targeted at the general public and decision makers; and (2) a “more focused engagement with communities that are candidates for CCS projects, to address such issues as environmental justice.”

Widespread cost-effective deployment of CCS will occur only if the technology is commercially available at economically competitive prices and supportive national policy frameworks, such as a cap on carbon pollution, are in place. The administration’s policy and technology initiatives are intended to address these needs.

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