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Congress, here’s a CO2-smart tax fix to protect, create jobs


As the Senate approaches a vote this week on tax reform legislation, there’s a proposal with bipartisan support that unions, environmental groups, and industry are all backing. Incentives to support more investment in carbon capture use and storage technology would spur new job growth, but they will also mean that manufacturers and energy producers have the ability to preserve jobs at existing facilities, while reducing carbon emissions at the same time.

The NRG Energy Petra Nova carbon capture project at the W.A. Parish coal-fired power plant about 25 miles southwest of Houston is an example of the potential to both cut emissions and protect workers. That’s because the retrofit adopting post-combustion carbon capture technology will annually extract more than 1.6 million tons of carbon dioxide that would otherwise be exhaled into the Texas sky.

{mosads}The project, which is the largest of its kind in the world, was also completed with more than 1,000 workers contributing to the project. But successes like this in the private sector can — and must — be bolstered by partners on Capitol Hill.

Leaders of both parties agree that the investments will create and preserve high-paying jobs while helping to reduce carbon emissions over the long term. Legislation to do just that has been cosponsored by a bipartisan group of 25 senators. The FUTURE Act, as introduced by Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) would encourage investment in carbon capture projects, direct air capture projects, and the development of technology to convert carbon into useful products.

We already know this practical technology works. In Decatur, Illinois, the Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Illinois Industrial Carbon Capture and Storage Project became the world’s first commercial-scale ethanol plant retrofitted with carbon capture. Retrofitting facilities with carbon capture technology, like those projects in Decatur and Houston, creates near-term construction jobs in communities where employment is sorely needed.

Two thousand workers were involved in the Shell Quest Project in Alberta with 900 working daily on the construction, and the SaskPower Boundary Dam Project in Saskatchewan employed roughly 600 people for construction. But, perhaps more importantly, these projects preserve the long-term jobs in communities that have depended on them for decades with the retrofits ensuring many more years of employment as upgraded plants emit far fewer carbon emissions than before. New projects in the U.S. can replicate those successes.

To help maintain American leadership in this critical area of energy infrastructure, now is the time to support adding more carbon capture projects to the development pipeline. That means providing the financial incentives for investment in these projects.   

Carbon capture applications go beyond the power sector, including great potential in steel, cement, and fertilizer production plants, natural gas processing plants, and at refineries. On the other side of the world, the Emirates Steel “Abu Dhabi CCS project” became the world’s first steel plant retrofitted with carbon capture technology.

Low-carbon and zero-carbon technologies have benefited in the past from similar financial incentives. Federal tax credits and state portfolio standards drove deployment of wind and solar energy and helped dramatically reduce costs. What’s important for Members of Congress and people concerned about carbon emissions to know is that carbon capture technology works.

Petra Nova and the ADM projects are just a couple of examples. For those examples to be replicated broadly though, we need now to make these projects more economical and to identify additional uses for repurposing the captured carbon in addition to enhanced oil recovery.

Scaling up carbon capture technology would set the stage for cost reductions that could open the door for new industries. Last fall, the Carbon XPRIZE recognized 27 semi-finalists who are developing promising uses for captured carbon dioxide, from enhanced concrete to plastics and carbon nanotubes for higher capacity batteries. In analyzing these finalists, making sure that the carbon stays out of the atmosphere will be an important factor.

Capturing carbon from sources — like power plants or industrial processes — can be a bridge to ambitious technologies, like direct atmospheric capture of CO2 to pull the greenhouse gas directly out of the air above. These exciting new industries provide opportunities for American innovation and new jobs. The sky is the limit with carbon capture; it’s that varied and diverse.

We’ve seen increased levels of deployment, improved technology performance, and reduced costs in the wind and solar energy industries thanks, in part, to financial incentives. While we’re right to celebrate these American successes, we must not stop there. Let’s apply the same winning formula of financial incentives and state portfolio standards to drive deployment of new American energy infrastructure. As the Senate deliberates over a tax extenders package, we encourage them to include the FUTURE Act — and its financial incentives for carbon capture technology — to open the door for American innovation.

Bob Perciasepe is president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization working to forge practical solutions to climate change. He is also a former deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

D. Michael Langford is the national president of the Utility Workers Union of America, which is committed to ensuring that its members are the safest, most productive, and highest skilled utility workers in the world.

John Risch is the national legislative director of the Transportation Division of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, the largest union of railroad employees in North America.

Tags Heidi Heitkamp John Barrasso Sheldon Whitehouse Shelley Moore Capito

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