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Think tank led by former US energy chief calls for federal CO2 purchasing agency


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Think tank led by former US energy chief calls for federal CO2 purchasing agency

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Ernest Moniz, president and CEO of the Energy Futures Initiative and a former U.S. energy secretary, speaks at an industry event in Las Vegas in 2017. The think tank released a policy plan on Dec. 8 calling for the creation of a National Carbon Removal Authority.
Source: Isaac Brekken / Stringer / Getty Images North America via Getty Images

A former U.S. energy secretary proposed creating a federal authority to pay for projects that remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, such as through habitat restoration or direct air capture.

The Energy Futures Initiative, a think tank led by Obama Cabinet member Ernest Moniz, released a report that makes the case for government-funded carbon dioxide removal, or CDR, overseen by a new National Carbon Removal Authority.

Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Scott Peters, D-Calif., joined Moniz in urging policymakers to view CDR as a "public good," comparable to waste management, at a Dec. 8 event hosted by Energy Futures Initiative.

"While a federal carbon removal procurement bill is unlikely to pass in the short term, we should be building our mission now so that we're ready when the political window of opportunity opens," Peters said.

Reversing global emissions

CDR refers to climate mitigation strategies that remove CO2 emissions from the atmosphere, as opposed to strategies for avoiding such emissions. Projects are often categorized as nature-based, exploiting the carbon-absorbing properties of plants or oceans, or technology-based, using tools like direct air capture to vacuum CO2 from the atmosphere.

The concept is "absolutely necessary for any serious attempt" at reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by midcentury, Moniz said.

However, private-sector developers have little profit motive to develop projects. The Energy Futures Initiative proposal would solve that problem through a federal purchasing program that would pay for projects in their entirety.

The Energy Futures Initiative is not the first to call for government-procured CO2 removal. Tonko and Peters introduced a bill in April that would designate the U.S. Energy Department as a carbon offset anchor customer, requiring the agency to purchase increasing amounts of CO2 each year. Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., co-sponsored a corresponding bill in the Senate. Neither bill has yet moved out of committee. And in May, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation released a report that floated a federally funded cleanup fund.

Meanwhile, Congress has already authorized spending for direct air capture through the bipartisan infrastructure law, which provided a $3.5 billion grant program for the technology, and the Inflation Reduction Act, which expanded federal tax credits for every tonne of CO2 removed.

In its report, Energy Futures Initiatives recommended a policy plan as a follow-on to Tonko's bill that would begin in 2035, under a new authority separate from the DOE. The program, called CO2-Secure, would start with a "lump sum" of $33.2 billion in direct spending authority for its first 10 years.

But implementing CO2-Secure would require authorization from Congress. "Attracting bipartisan political support is essential, both for the enactment of the needed legislation as well as for sustaining support for implementation over time," the report said.

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