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Carbon capture and storage framework moves forward

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(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania’s first draft of carbon capture and storage regulation recently cleared a big legislative hurdle – Senate approval.

Chief advocate and bill sponsor Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Williamsport, said the framework also makes possible the development of two hydrogen hubs slated for Pennsylvania by the Biden administration last year.

“It’s a pragmatic solution to a problem that we all want to solve – reducing our carbon emissions without crippling the reliability of our existing power grid,” Yaw said.

The idea is to store future emissions to prevent their release into the atmosphere. However, the economic potential of doing so isn’t clearly understood yet.

Instead of storing in Pennsylvania itself, it may be more pragmatic to export captured emissions elsewhere via pipelines. The regulatory environment, too, isn’t settled.

Despite this, Yaw said the state is “uniquely qualified” to develop a network, in part due to its “robust energy industry and extensive geological formations.”

“We should act now to establish a solid regulatory framework that will attract investment and development and economic opportunity for decades to come,” he said.

Critics, however, say the legislation leaves consumers on the hook for increased utility costs if participating fossil fuel plants pass use rate hikes to recoup state-imposed fees.

“This bill is deeply flawed and does not provide the necessary safeguards for our communities or our environment,” said Sen. Katie Muth, D-Royersford, during a recent floor debate. “Nor does it provide an actual solution to combat the climate crisis – regardless of whether you believe it’s happening, it’s all impacting every single one of us.”

Muth and other Democrats argue the framework lacks specifics about the miles of pipelines necessary for the technology. Nor does it go far enough to reduce environmental harm nor support the transition to solar and wind power.

“There are no carbon capture success stories, only failures,” Muth said.

During an informational hearing held by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in June, support for legislation to jumpstart the industry attracted support from environmental groups and trade unions alike.

Unlikely bedfellows – like the Environmental Defense Fund and the Pennsylvania Building and Construction Trades Council – saw value in the technology’s role in the long-term energy transition away from fossil fuels, while still boosting economic prosperity.

Pennsylvania has about 5,000 miles of carbon-dioxide pipelines, according to the fund, and some projections estimate that number could massively grow to 100,000 miles.

As Muth’s comments alluded to, however, years-long permitting delays from the Environmental Protection Agency have caused problems for carbon-capture projects in other states.

Wyoming and North Dakota have gained primacy from the EPA over permitting decisions, but the process took almost a decade, according to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. Pennsylvania intends to apply for primacy as well.

Some experts say the economic promise of carbon capture, however, also isn’t yet proven. So far, the sector has a history of federal subsidies that have not panned out.

In 2018, a federal tax credit expansion led to dozens of new projects, as The Center Square previously reported. Coal- and industrial-related carbon-capture projects, however, were criticized by the Government Accountability Office due to the Department of Energy’s “high-risk selection and negotiation process” and its “bypassing of cost controls.”

Without those federal subsidies – i.e. taxpayer money – the projects won’t get built.

Anthony Hennen contributed to this report.