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Interagency Task Force Releases Report on ‘Clean Coal’ Technology

An interagency task force looking at long-term federal strategy for so-called “clean coal” technologies released its final report today. The verdict? There are no “insurmountable” barriers to commercial-scale deployment of the technology.

But there are a number of barriers to surmount. According to the report, uncertainty about climate change policy, high costs, regulatory uncertainty and potential concerns about liability are all major barriers.

According to the report:

Administration analyses of proposed climate change legislation suggest that CCS technologies will not be widely deployed in the next two decades absent financial incentives that supplement projected carbon prices. In addition to the challenges associated with cost, these projects will need to meet regulatory requirements that are currently under development. Long-standing regulatory programs are being adapted to meet the circumstances of CCS, but limited experience and institutional capacity at the Federal and State1 level may hinder implementation of CCS-specific requirements. Key legal issues, such as long-term liability and property rights, also need resolution.

Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology, whereby harmful carbon dioxide emissions from coal plants are collected and sequestered deep in the ground, is seen by many in the administration as the only hope for continuing to rely on the nation’s abundant supply of coal. While the administration has called for a transition to renewable energy sources like wind and solar, coal with CCS is seen one near-term way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But many environmentalists argue that CCS is an expensive and unrealistic pipe dream, citing soaring cost estimates and delays in demonstrating the technology on a commercial scale.

One issue that must be dealt with is liability or the question of who is responsible for the potential damages that could be caused by injecting large amounts of carbon dioxide into the ground and storing it there for thousands of years. The coal industry argues that it cannot be held fully responsible for such long-term liability.

The report calls on the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior and the Treasury Department to provide recommendations on the issue by late 2011. In the meantime, the report gives a number of potential solutions to the liability dilemma. They include limiting future liability claims, creating an fund into which companies would pay to cover potential claims and the transfer of liability to the federal government.

These liability concerns echo the ongoing battle in Congress over a company’s liability in the event of an oil spill.

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