Carbon capture technology: solid as gas

Sarah Lee Contributor

Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu will travel to West Virginia next month to discuss the future of coal. He will be peddling compelling ideas; compelling because those opposed to carbon taxation may recognize the arguments. In fact, those arguments will be used to promote placing a price on carbon emissions — essentially levying yet another tax on businesses and individuals who rely on coal-generated power.

Specifically, the Administration concluded in its recently released Report of the Interagency Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage that the existence of “technical, economic, and regulatory challenges” to incorporating carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology with coal-based power plants means that putting a price on carbon emissions is absolutely mandatory in order to fund the technology. Never mind that there’s plenty of evidence to suggest the technology is ineffective, unproven, risky and unnecessary. The way the report reads, capturing carbon and storing it underground — where it will be stockpiled for potential future use in the carbon trading game — is necessary in order to ensure the proper management of a terrible threat to the environment.

Making the argument that the role of carbon emissions in the climate change debate is hotly contested generally falls on deaf ears. The fact that the financial numbers involved with implementing the technology sound more like fantasy than actual real-world amounts — some estimates have the costs, including regulatory, monitoring, et al, easily exceeding $1.5 trillion per year, or $4,109,589,000 per day — it is crucial to ensure that the technology is, at least, be well-tried and proven effective. Alas, there is no such security in the emerging marketplace of carbon capture and sequestration.

And still, Energy Secretary Chu, responding to a direct invitation from Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), — co-author of the CCS Deployment Act of 2010 — will be traveling this September to the University of Charleston, in West Virginia — the heart of coal-country — to discuss the evils of coal emissions, the joys of capturing those emissions and storing them underground, and how these changes will affect those who’ve invested their livelihoods in coal mining. He may even discuss how much the government will be “spending” on saving us from ourselves. Presumably, he won’t discuss how utility bills are going to rise or how regulators will arbitrarily determine the cost of a unit of carbon. Those details will come later, after the public believes in the cause.

Sarah Lee is an Atlanta native and freelance writer living and working in Washington, D.C.