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Carbon capture braces for potential loss of Senate advocates in midterms

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Carbon capture braces for potential loss of Senate advocates in midterms

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S&P Global Market Intelligence explores the potential impacts of the 2018 midterm U.S. elections on the economy, industries and individual companies across the globe.


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Though two top carbon capture advocates in Congress face tough re-election bids going into November, several industry representatives said they were not worried about the races' outcome affecting legislative support for the technology.

U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., both supporters of carbon capture development, are in close races going into the midterm election, with Heitkamp trailing U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Manchin maintaining a slight lead over Republican challenger Patrick Morrisey, according to recent polls.

Jeff Erikson, general manager of client engagement for the Global CCS Institute, an international organization working to deploy carbon capture technology, said he is confident that carbon capture has sufficient support to withstand the loss of some backers.

"[Heitkamp's] voice would be missed, but there's plenty of other advocates, I think, that are ready to step into any gap, and that comes from both sides of the aisle," Erikson said. "... It does not depend on whether or not one senator gets re-elected."

The February passage of the FUTURE Act, which extended the federal 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and sequestration technology, and the support for the USE IT Act, a bill that would promote research and developments in carbon capture, "reflects a really strong bipartisan support," Erikson said.

"We hope and expect that the next Congress will continue to support carbon capture and storage, just like the last one did," he said. "We're keen to have members of Congress that recognize the challenge that we face with climate change and see carbon capture as an important part of that."

Heitkamp, who sponsored the FUTURE Act, and fellow Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse teamed up with Republican Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and John Barrasso on both pieces of legislation.

Heitkamp told S&P Global Market Intelligence that if re-elected, her main focus in the carbon capture sphere will be getting the USE It Act passed and continuing to tweak policy as needed to help advance the technology out of the labs and onto the global stage.

There is a willingness in Congress now to support the effort, Heitkamp said, and if Barrasso and Whitehouse are working on the same bill to promote the same investment, "that's pure gold."

In addition to policy decisions, federal lawmakers also ensure the U.S. Department of Energy, which has provided funding for carbon capture efforts, is working efficiently, said Jared Moore, an independent energy researcher and consultant.

It would be tough to lose Heitkamp's and Manchin's moderate voices, Moore said.

"Given that there's so few people in Congress that are willing to both acknowledge fossil fuels and climate change, they're very valuable to the industry," Moore said. "... If there's only a handful of senators that really support this idea and two of them are on the chopping block, that's pretty important as it's going to make our life a lot harder."

Donald Collins, CEO of the Western Research Institute, a Wyoming-based organization researching advanced energy systems, among other things, said support is growing as people see advancements in CO2 capture and in conversion and utilization to make products. The technology can be appealing to those who want to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and to others who see the business opportunity of using the gas.

Energy has become politicized, making it more difficult to find common ground on policy, said Jason Begger, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. Heitkamp and Manchin have been able to talk about coal in a "logical fashion," understanding that the fuel is "not going away anytime soon" and will have to be factored into solutions to address climate change.

Regardless of who wins the Senate elections in North Dakota and West Virginia, those big energy states will likely still be supportive of carbon efforts, Begger said.

Brice Freeman, a consulting engineer with Membrane Technology and Research Inc., a company engineering membranes to separate gases, said Heitkamp knows the carbon capture and energy industries and easily understands the technical issues, "which few people in elected office can do." The 45Q credit has also been "such a great catalyst" in the industry, helping close the funding gap and sparking interest in carbon capture.

"I'm an optimist," Freeman said. "I think that people will see that this has been a success and will want to continue it, even if Heitkamp's not still in the Senate."