Dems Back Funneling Taxpayer Dollars Toward Faltering ‘Clean Coal’ Projects


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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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Democratic senators are pushing legislation to double the tax subsidies for coal-fired power plants that use carbon capture and storage, or CCS technology, despite the huge problems plaguing such clean coal projects.

Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island introduced a bill Wednesday to increase subsidies for coal plants using CCS. The bill would “more than double the tax breaks, to $50 per metric ton of permanently stored CO2 and $35 per metric ton of carbon dioxide captured for use in enhanced oil recovery and other newly authorized activities,” according to Politico.

Democrats would also raise the CO2 tonnage cap on tax breaks for coal companies looking to use CCS. About half the 75 million ton cap has already been used, and some are asking for more subsidies to attract more investment.

Heitkamp wants more subsidies for CCS coal plants because her state is dependent on coal for 75 percent of its electricity needs and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) global warming regulations will likely force more coal plants to close down unless they use CCS.

EPA’s so-called Clean Power Plan requires North Dakota to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by nearly 45 percent, and EPA effectively banned building new coal plants unless they use CCS.

There’s just one problem: The CCS power plants being built are heavily reliant on taxpayer support and have suffered major setbacks from construction delays to cost overruns.

The Obama administration dedicated more than $3 billion toward commercializing CCS technology for power plants, but so far, none of those projects have come online.

The New York Times recently ran a piece with the headline, “Piles of Dirty Secrets Behind a Model ‘Clean Coal’ Project.” The Times reported the Kemper Project in Mississippi, “a centerpiece of President Obama’s climate plan, has been plagued by problems that managers tried to conceal, and by cost overruns and questions of who will pay.”

The Kemper plant has cost taxpayers $265 million, and is more than two years behind schedule. The “first­-of-­its­-kind” CCS plant was supposed to cost $2.4 billion, but has eaten up $4 billion and it’s even up and running.

But Kemper isn’t the first clean coal boondoggle. The Energy Department announced in 2015 it was pulling out of a major CCS project in central Illinois, called FutureGen 2.0, after having awarded it $1.1 billion.

“In order to best protect taxpayer interests, the Department of Energy has initiated a structured closeout of federal support for the project that will help maximize the value of investments to date while minimizing ongoing risks and further costs,” DOE spokesman Bill Gibbons said in February 2015.

More recently, the Energy Department’s inspector general questioned the viability of another CCS power plant in Texas the agency had given $116 million in taxpayer support. The IG warned taxpayers could lose $450 million if the project goes under.

“Although we have not yet completed our audit, we are issuing this Special Report to communicate our immediate concern about the Project to allow the Department sufficient time to take actions to protect taxpayer funds,” the IG reported about the Texas Clean Energy Project (TCEP).

“Although construction of the plant was originally planned for completion in June 2014, the Project remains in the project definition phase,” the IG warned. “Additionally, we found that the Department had taken actions that increased its financial risk in the Project.”

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