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US defense spending bill designates funds for carbon capture, grid security

Measures to boost the use of carbon capture technology to power the U.S. military and guard the nation's energy infrastructure against cyberattacks were included in a compromise spending bill released Dec. 9 by congressional appropriators.

The bill will next head back to the full U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate for approval before it can be advanced to President Donald Trump's desk. While House Democrats had proposed placing restrictions around the use of military funds to build a physical barrier along the U.S.-Mexico border, the compromise bill aims to avoid another government shutdown by preserving Trump's ability to reprogram Pentagon funds for border wall construction.

"Reassuringly, the past few days have finally brought an end to bipartisan talks and produced a compromise," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Dec. 10 in a statement. "The end result should be able to pass both chambers and earn the president's signature."

Section 223 of the latest National Defense Authorization Act, which funds defense spending through fiscal year 2020, also designated $8 million for a program designed to spur technologies that capture carbon dioxide from seawater and the air and convert it into clean fuels for use at military facilities and in vehicles. The U.S. military is one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in the world and would rank 47th if it were a country when only accounting for fuel usage, according to a recent study by researchers at Durham University and Lancaster University.

The Pentagon's carbon capture program would be overseen by the Defense Department in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

In addition, Section 5726 of the defense spending bill incorporated legislation that would require the DOE to research how the U.S. power sector could rely more heavily on manual, nondigital technologies as a way to isolate the grid from cyberattacks. The provision comes amid a push to fortify an increasingly digitized U.S. bulk power system against cyber intrusions from nation-states and other actors.

However, the Dec. 9 conference report released by House and Senate budget negotiators indicated that another key carbon capture bill the Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies Act, or USE IT Act was left out of the final budget deal. Lawmakers had attached the USE IT Act to the Senate's annual defense spending bill in June.

Favored by a broad coalition of stakeholders including environmental groups and electric utilities, the USE IT Act encourages the commercial use of carbon capture technology, including direct air capture. It also seeks to streamline permitting of pipelines to transport the greenhouse gas for storage or other applications, including enhanced oil recovery and producing building materials and carbon fiber.

While the USE IT Act was excluded from defense spending, the bipartisan bill was also attached to a transportation spending bill reported out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in August. That legislation could see floor time early in 2020. According to climate experts, carbon capture and storage technology for power plants and other industrial processes will need to ramp up significantly for the U.S. to achieve House Democrats' goal of creating a "100% clean" economy by midcentury.