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Fossil fuel industry sabotaging itself by ignoring carbon capture, senator says

The fossil fuel industry is "engaged in self-harm" by failing to partake in the development of carbon capture technology despite federal tax incentives, U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said at an energy event.

At an Oct. 4 meeting of the Carbon Utilization Research Council, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., also called on the industry to use carbon capture credits to continue their research. Six years ago, she said, few believed carbon-neutral coal existed, but "no longer is this the punchline to a joke."

"Now we're talking about air capture of CO2 and no one laughs," said Heitkamp.

Though the technology would have likely grown on its own, she said, lawmakers helped accelerate its development by bridging political divides to fight for a mutual goal: reducing emissions.

The senators highlighted their work on the FUTURE Act, which guaranteed 45Q tax credit eligibility for carbon capture projects that broke ground within seven years of its passage, and the USE IT Act, which they introduced in March to promote research and development into carbon capture technology.

Whitehouse said he believes a carbon tax is inevitable and would provide funding for carbon capture facilities without placing the burden on ratepayers or on power plants, making them less competitive. The tax would also help provide a "sensible transition" for communities where there is strong fossil fuel investment and for the fossil fuel industry.

"The problem for carbon capture has been that because there is no price associated with carbon emissions," Whitehouse said. "There is, the other side of the coin, no revenue associated with preventing or removing carbon emissions.

"If I can come up with a plan where all the coal plants in the country continue to run and we have offsets for them with carbon removal and we have the funding to get there, I'm for that," he said. "I'm only about shutting down coal plants because of what they do to Rhode Island and because of what they do to our planet."

Whitehouse also told carbon capture leaders they need to "decouple it" from enhanced oil recovery, a process where harvested carbon is used to help extract oil from the ground, to broaden the technologies to areas without oil fields as well as "permit other end uses for the product."

Regardless of technological developments in renewable energy sources over the decades, coal continues to be used at the same rate worldwide, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told the council.

"Overall, we're using more energy even though we're all using it more efficiently," Barrasso said. "… I think that's why you take a look at the percentage of electricity produced by coal over the last 20 years not changing at all even though the fact that more and more new sources of energy are coming on."

Heitkamp, who has been one of carbon capture's top supporters in Congress but faces an uphill battle for re-election in November, urged developers to "keep doing what you're doing."

"Keep telling us in the Congress and in the administration what you need to help develop these products," she said, "what you need in terms of certainty, what you need in terms of resources, technology."