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New carbon-capture effort set up

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- As the coal industry continues to blast U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposals to curb greenhouse gas pollution, the Obama administration is moving forward with another effort to advance technology that would help power plants capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz this week announced 18 new projects across the country to research second-generation technologies to improve the efficiency and drive down the costs for carbon capture and storage, or CCS, for new and existing coal-fired power plants.

In a statement, Moniz noted that renewable electricity generation has more than doubled in the past four years but insisted that "any serious effort" to combat climate change "also must include developing, demonstrating and deploying" technology to curb emissions from fossil fuels.

"As part of the president's all-of-the-above approach to develop clean and affordable sources of American energy, the projects announced today will focus on the next generation of carbon-capture technologies -- helping to drive down the cost, increase efficiency and ensure America's continued international leadership in combating climate change," Moniz said.

None of the new projects -- funded with $84 million in Department of Energy money -- are located in West Virginia.

The Obama administration is moving to implement the first-ever greenhouse gas emissions limits for new and existing power plants as part of a broader strategy to try to limit the negative impacts of global warming.

Experts have concluded that the key to coal's survival in a carbon-constrained world is to perfect technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions and pump those emissions underground.

Critics worry about the expense, safety and a host of technical hurdles, including the huge infrastructure needed to install the equipment on power plants across the world. Environmental and citizen groups also are hesitant to support CCS, worrying that the talk of "clean coal" allows the government and industry to ignore what they argue are other much-needed improvements in the regulation of how coal is mined and burned, and how coal wastes are handled.

The $84 million in funding announced this week is far from the billions of dollars that experts believe is needed for CCS research. However, Obama's plan does include $8 billion in new DOE loan guarantees for fossil-fuel projects, including those aimed specifically at testing, perfecting and deploying CCS technology to control greenhouse emissions.

Some utility officials complain that EPA-proposed emissions limits for new power plants move too quickly, and the mining industry has continued to complain that the Obama administration is engaging in a "war on coal."

"Americans count on coal for affordable electricity and employment," the National Mining Association said in an ad published in The Washington Post. "They're telling [the] EPA what they think about its reckless regulations."

The association was referring to citizens from mining communities attending a coal industry rally last week in Washington, timed just before the start of an EPA "listening tour" on climate-change rules that did not include meetings in major coal-production areas.

At a congressional hearing held to coincide with the industry rally, Daniel Weiss of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, told lawmakers that EPA rules to limit greenhouse gases would help speed development and deployment of CCS.

"With a clear and certain technology-based pollution-reduction target, equipment vendors would have an incentive to develop new carbon-capture systems, and improve existing ones, to lower costs and enhance performance," Weiss testified to a House subcommittee.

"Utilities could seek federal grants or loan guarantees from existing programs, to defray part of the CCS costs," he testified. "Investors would be more inclined to finance the initial generation of CCS plants to gain a 'first mover' advantage, knowing that a market would exist for more plants as the industry scales up.

"Utilities are nervous that public service commissions that oversee their electricity rates will not allow them to recover the costs from the increased expense of building power plants with CCS technology," Weiss said. "An EPA carbon-pollution standard would enable utilities to make a much stronger case for cost recovery, because CCS would be a requirement for any future power plant burning coal."

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., has tried to encourage the mining industry and other West Virginia leaders to focus more on supporting efforts to develop and deploy CCS.

"While there are challenges with bringing 'clean coal' to market," Rockefeller said, "it doesn't mean it isn't worth it.

"In America, we meet challenges. We accomplish big things," the senator said. "We've faced and overcome technological challenges in the past. I believe we can -- and will -- meet those challenges again. Everyone has a stake in our state's future -- labor, industry, environmental groups and West Virginia families."

Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kward@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.


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