While President Trump has rolled back several Obama-era rules regulating the coal industry, his push specifically for "clean coal" — "we’re going to have clean coal, really clean coal," he said in March — has so far been largely rhetorical.
Now a bipartisan group of senators are introducing legislation that would give President Trump the chance to put his bill-signing hand where his mouth has been.
On Wednesday, Sens. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) will introduce a bill to strengthen tax credits for “carbon capture and storage" projects -- or CCS for short.
The group of 25 co-sponsors of the bill includes both some of the strongest advocates for action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, such as Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.), along with senators who have doubted the link between human activity and climate change, like Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Barrasso.
Developing CCS technology -- and making it economically viable -- is one of the few climate-related issues that corrals across-the-aisle support. That's because not only does the sequestered carbon dioxide mitigate the impact humans are having on warming the planet, but that captured carbon can be useful to industry. Commercial uses for captured carbon dioxide include injecting it into the ground to push out difficult-to-reach pockets of oil -- a process called "enhanced oil recovery" -- and using it as a raw material in the manufacturing of cement, steel and some industrial chemicals.
"One thing I've discovered since being here is that with almost every issue you can find that lane everybody can agree on," Heitkamp said in an interview. "You may not still have the same motivations, but we may be able to find a path forward to actually achieve a result."
Still, some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, say the technological challenge of making CCS work at scale is too great and that there is no guarantee any carbon dioxide stored deep in the Earth won't one day leak and still warm the planet.
To boot, the economic viability of carbon-capture technology, even with government support, remains an open question. Last month, a flagship power plant in Mississippi meant to showcase "clean coal" with Energy Department grant money shuttered its carbon-capture operation after years of financial difficulties.
But carbon-capture advocates say the original credit in the tax code, passed in 2008 and listed in Section 45Q, failed to motivate private companies to thoroughly invest in and develop the technology.
"It was a well-intentioned tax credit, but it never worked out as intended," said Brad Crabtree, vice president of the Great Plains Institute, an advocacy group.
The existing law gives firms a $20 tax credit for each metric ton of carbon dioxide stored underground and $10 for each metric ton used in enhanced oil recovery — amounts, Crabtree said, that were not enough to spark private research and development.
The bill would up the current tax credit values to $50 and $35 per metric ton, respectively. Indeed, modeling from the Energy Department suggests that tax credits that high will boost CCS deployment.
The legislation also lifts a cap on the number of tons of CO2 that can receive a tax credit over the lifetime of the program. With at least 35 million of the 75 million authorized tons already claimed by 2014, according to the Internal Revenue Service, many power plants and other carbon emitters are unsure of purchasing and deploying CCS equipment lest the tax credit runs out before they can recoup that investment. The proposal would guarantee that companies receive the tax credit for 12 years.
Heitkamp and Whitehouse have taken a stab at reforming the 45Q tax credits with a similar bill proposed last year, picking up co-sponsorships from Capito and, importantly, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell from the coal-producing state of Kentucky.
But McConnell, who is interested in passing a broad tax reform bill, is not a co-sponsor this time around.
The majority leader "continues to be interested in the progress of carbon capture technology," McConnell spokesman Robert Steurer wrote in an email. "He is currently focused on comprehensive tax reform but this is one of many items that may be discussed during debate."
In separate interviews, both Heitkamp and Capito said the best shot at bolstering the carbon-capture tax credits will likely be through incorporating their proposal in a tax overhaul that has taken a backseat to health care efforts so far.
A similar CCS tax credit bill introduced last year in the House has 50 co-sponsors from both parties. But in the past, House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) has bucked popular proposals to expand or extend energy tax credits. In late 2016, for example, Ryan chose not to include extensions of tax credits for geothermal pumps and fuel cells backed by McConnell in an end-of-year tax and spending bill.
As for Trump, the president's budget proposed deep cuts into another key way the federal government supports carbon capture and storage -- research done through the Energy Department's Office of Fossil Energy. Under the Trump budget, research and development into carbon capture would be slashed to $16 million from $101 million while research and development funds for carbon storage would be cut to $15 million from $106 million.
Capito called those proposed budget cuts to CCS a "red flag."
"We've expressed that to the administration and that we know that the future for these kind of technologies lies with the research," Capito said in an interview.
As for the tax credit proposal itself, Heitkamp said that when she met with the then-president-elect in December, she mentioned the bipartisan proposal to strengthen the CCS tax credit.
"He seemed interested," she said.
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-- Go get that gold in them hills: The Environmental Protection Agency released a regulatory proposal to withdraw the Obama-era restriction on large-scale mining in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed, a move that could open the door to controversial gold and copper mining there.
Mining was blocked under President Obama to protect the sockeye salmon fisheries in the area, and Taryn Kiekow Heimer, senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Post's Brady Dennis that, “The facts haven’t changed. The science hasn’t changed. The opposition hasn’t changed.”
Dennis reports that the EPA will begin accepting public comments on the proposal for 90 days.
The Tuesday notice follows a legal settlement in May with mine developer Pebble Limited Partnership, allowing the company the opportunity to apply for federal permits, which the Obama administration had blocked.
“Pursuant to the settlement agreement and policy direction from EPA's Administrator, EPA is proposing to withdraw the July 2014 Proposed Determination at this time and is taking public comment on this proposal. The proposal reflects the Administrator's decision to provide PLP with additional time to submit a permit application to the Army Corps and potentially allow the Army Corps permitting process to initiate without having an open and unresolved Section 404(c) review,” the EPA wrote in the notice.
Dennis notes: “Even if the EPA eventually does withdraw its opposition, Pebble Mine would have to undergo a federal environmental review and clear other state hurdles before construction could begin. The EPA said Tuesday that after it hears from the public and consults with local tribes, its regional administrator will make a final determination ‘in consultation’ with Pruitt.”
-- "The world we live in today": Energy Secretary Rick Perry said Tuesday that a report that Russian government hackers targeted U.S. nuclear power and energy companies was "real.”
"Well, obviously it's real, it's ongoing and we shouldn't be surprised when you think of the world we live in today," Perry said in an interview on Fox Business.
Why that matters: Government officials already confirmed the attacks over the weekend. But Perry's buy-in is important because his department is conducting a comprehensive review of grid security that has some wind and solar advocates spooked. Some elected Democrats don't think Perry is doing enough to address the electric grid's susceptibility to hacking.
Perry added: “The Idaho National Lab has a full out grid in Idaho where we work on infesting, if you will, a grid to see… how you detect, how you protect. That’s the goal, that’s the charge we have at the Department of Energy.”
-- Perry is heading to Mexico this week to meet with the nation's president and energy secretary to “discuss the great strides being made in Mexican energy reform, and will highlight the longstanding energy partnership between the U.S. and Mexico,” the department announced Tuesday. Both countries’ top energy officials will speak after meeting on Thursday.
-- The EPA revolution will be televised: The EPA is planning a debate on climate change that may be televised, agency administrator Scott Pruitt told Reuters in an interview.
"There are lots of questions that have not been asked and answered" about climate change, Pruitt said. "Who better to do that than a group of scientists... getting together and having a robust discussion for all the world to see.”
Reuters noted that Pruitt did not indicate how the scientists for the debate would be picked. But Pruitt said he “thinks” the debate should be on television.
"I think so. I think so. I mean, I don’t know yet, but you want this to be open to the world. You want this to be on full display. I think the American people would be very interested in consuming that. I think they deserve it."
-- A (very slight) sigh of relief at the EPA: After clashing with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt in budget hearings last month where he defended Trump's deep budget cuts to the agency, House budget appropriators are planting their flag in the sand.
On Tuesday, the relevant House Budget subcommittee released its funding proposal for the EPA that provides the agency $7.5 billion.
Context: Though that would be a more-than-half-billion-dollar cut from last year's EPA budget, it is still far above what Trump wants. His budget proposal has EPA funding at only $5.6 billion.
On Interior funding: For that department, House appropriators want to provide $11.9 billion while the president wants to provide $11.7 billion.
-- New appointee at Interior: A former Bush administration Interior official who removed the Everglades from the United Nations’s endangered sites will return under Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The Miami Herald reported that Todd Willens, most recently a chief of staff under Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.) and a longtime lobbyist, will work as an assistant deputy secretary in Trump’s Interior department. Willens convinced the United Nations World Heritage Committee to remove the Everglades National Park from the endangered list, where it had been since 1993.
-- The Wall Street Journal reported on an unexpected energy crisis for the world’s No. 2 exporter of liquefied natural gas, or LNG.
In February, a nationwide heat wave forced a town in Australia to cut power to 90,000 homes after a gas-fueled power plant was unable to provide enough gas to run turbines to full capacity and provide air conditioning to those homes. Although Australia exports enough LNG to best No. 1 exporter Qatar in the next several years, it didn’t keep enough gas in the country to prevent such outages.
From the Journal: “As exports increased from new LNG facilities in eastern Australia, some state governments let aging coal plants close and accelerated a push toward renewable energy for environmental concerns. That left the regions more reliant on gas for power, especially when intermittent sources such as wind and solar weren’t sufficient."
Why it matters: Of course, it matters to Australians. But beyond the land Down Under, it is a lesson of the consequence of exporting too much of a finite energy resource too quickly. One of the worries is that increased U.S. LNG exports will harm the manufacturing sector.
Or at least that's according to some industry advocates in the United States who are concerned that an increase in LNG exports will also drive up domestic energy costs.
"The U.S. is following the same failed policy," Paul N. Cicio, president of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America, a trade group representing concrete, glass, chemical and other energy-intensive manufacturers, said in a statement. "There are no consumer protections in place on U.S. LNG exports."
-- BREAKING NEWS (literally): That much-talked-about iceberg-the-size-of-Delaware has finally detached from the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.
The concern: In and of itself, this iceberg calving will not cause any additional sea-level rise because the ice was already afloat. But the long-term concern among some scientists is that Larsen C, which holds back glaciers on Antarctica that would raise sea levels should they flow into the ocean, is destabilizing.
Other scientists say calving events like this, even of this scale, are normal for ice sheets.
As for the connection to climate change, The Post's Chris Mooney writes:
There is a debate over whether this event can be attributed in any way to climate change. Scientists don’t have all the data to show what is happening in the environment of the floating Larsen C ice shelf, which is affected not only but air temperatures above it but also ocean temperatures below it.
Antarctica’s ice shelves do calve large pieces regularly, a natural process. But at the same time, Larsen C is the next ice shelf in line in a southward progression that has previously seen the collapse of the Larsen A and Larsen B ice shelves, making this occurrence at least suspicious.
Breaking news! The iceberg has fully detached from Larsen C - more details to follow soon pic.twitter.com/pdSxDuAGjR— Project MIDAS (@MIDASOnIce) July 12, 2017
(The area of the iceberg gets compared to that of Delaware or Wales, usually depending on whether you're talking to a U.S. or U.K. scientist.)
He argues that the piece is “mostly accurate" in describing that absolute-worst-case scenario, and explains point-by-point why a Facebook post by prominent Penn State climate scientist Michael Mann doesn’t actually debunk the magazine's cover story by David Wallace-Wells.
For example, Mann writes the science "doesn't support the notion of a game-changing, planet-melting methane bomb" should Arctic and sub-Arctic permafrost thaw.
Roberts responds that "you will search the Wallace-Wells piece in vain for any of those words (except 'methane'). He never says 'bomb' or 'sudden.'"
(In contrast, Eric Holthaus, a meteorologist and writer for Grist, counted at least 14 scientific errors.)
Because I can't leave well enough alone & b/c ppl have been asking, I found 14 factual errors or exaggerations w/ @NYMag piece.— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) July 11, 2017
But more to the point, Vox's Roberts explains why he believes “worst-case scenario climate journalism” is OK:
By any sane accounting, the ranks the under-alarmed outnumber the over-alarmed by many multiples. The vast majority of people do not have an accurate understanding of how bad climate change has already gotten or how bad it is likely to get, much less how bad it could get if we keep electing crazy people.
Meanwhile, New York magazine writer Wallace-Wells himself explained why he chose to write the article in an interview in Gothamist:
The conceit of the piece was to survey worst case scenarios in order to ultimately motivate people to action... And so I thought even just as a kind of experiment in psychological anchoring, it was useful to say, here’s really the worst case outcome that you should be thinking about probably as often as you think about the best case outcome...
Anyways, enough is enough with this New York piece.
Or as Desert Sun reporter Sammy Roth put it:
HOT TAKE: Climate folks have better things to do than continue debating the merits of an article in New York Magazine.— Sammy Roth (@Sammy_Roth) July 11, 2017
-- An "extremely high degree of population decay:" The idea that we're in the midst of the sixth mass extinction since complex life emerged on Earth is not new. Indeed, New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Colbert had enough material to publish her wonderful Pulitzer Prize-winning book, "The Sixth Extinction," three years ago.
But a new study provides, what scientists not involved in the study say, is some of the best quantitative evidence that we are indeed witnessing a mass extinction event.
The key finding: 32 percent of all of 27,600 species studied — a sample size that comprises nearly half of all known land-based animals with backbones — have decreased in population size and range since the beginning of the 20th century.
Closer to home on the evolutionary tree: Of the 177 mammal species studied, all have lost terrestrial range.
Put another way: This is an "extremely high degree of population decay in vertebrates, even in common 'species of low concern,'" the authors of the study in the highly regarded Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences write.
-- Grist published a first-in-a-series story on a suburb of Buffalo, N.Y that has turned its economy around and made it cleaner after the closure of its coal-powered Huntley Generating Station.
The Huntley plant was shuttered nearly a year-and-a-half ago, and stopped producing power for the first time, Grist noted, since World War I. It was not only the county’s largest air-and-water polluter, but also its biggest taxpayer.
Rebecca Newberry, a 35-year-old resident of the town of Tonawanda helped form a group to help pick the town up after the economic hit.
Grist’s Elizabeth McGowan reports:
By combining the resources of her nonprofit, the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, with area labor unions and other community groups, Newberry helped to hatch a plan for Tonawanda’s next chapter — and provide an inclusive, equitable template for other blue-collar towns facing the loss of dirty energy jobs and other polluting industries..
The group that Newberry helped form would come to be known as the Huntley Alliance. The partnership convinced New York lawmakers to provide Tonawanda with a temporary cash infusion to sustain the town as it reinvents its tax base — the first time a state has offered a financial cushion to a community that was financially reliant on a coal-fired power plant.
- The House Committee on Science, Space and Technology will hold a hearing on the national security implications of climate change.
- The House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Research and Technology will hold a hearing on US Fire Administration and Fire Grant Programs Reauthorization.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a hearing on offshore oil and gas development.
- The Atlantic Council will hold an event on the state of Ukraine’s energy sector.
- The Senate Indian Affairs Committee will hold a legislative hearing.
- The House Appropriations Committee will markup the 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill and the 2018 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill.
- The EPA Presentations at the National Science Teachers Association STEM Forum starts today and continues through Friday.
- The Energy Department holds a Better Buildings exchange on resilience and energy efficiency in low-income communities on Thursday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Indian, Insular and Alaska Native Affairs will hold an oversight hearing on the Indian Reorganization Act on Thursday.
- The House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands will hold a legislative hearing on four bills on Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blames the recess delay on ‘unprecedented level of obstruction’:
Senate Republicans push back August recess:
President Trump's ongoing misunderstanding of NATO funding:
Late-night laughs: Donald Trump Jr. tweets his emails: