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Bipartisan US Senate bill aims to spur deployment of carbon capture technologies

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced a bill March 22 to promote research and development of carbon capture technologies, including through expedited carbon dioxide pipeline permitting. Supporters of the bill say these technologies will be crucial to maintaining demand for coal and other fossil fuels in a carbon-constrained economy.

The Utilizing Significant Emissions with Innovative Technologies, or USE IT, Act was introduced by Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. The legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

"My legislation will make Washington a helpful partner to efforts taking place in Wyoming to develop carbon capture technologies, convert carbon into a useful product, and reduce emissions," Barrasso said.

The bill would direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to support carbon utilization and direct air capture research, including through financial awards for project designs that can capture more than 10,000 tons of CO2 per year and be deployed at less than $200 per ton of captured CO2. A design must undergo an EPA-established peer review in order to receive an award.

The USE IT Act also would direct the EPA administrator to appoint a nine-member "Direct Air Capture Technology Advisory Board" and carry out a research and development program to promote technologies that can transform CO2 generated from industrial processes into a "product of commercial value." As part of the program, the EPA would collaborate with relevant federal and state agencies, the private sector and universities to develop ways to account for avoided carbon emissions from CO2 utilization projects.

The bill also seeks to improve the permitting process for carbon capture infrastructure, including pipelines for transporting CO2, by making those projects eligible for expedited permitting under the Fixing America's Surface Transportation, or FAST, Act. The FAST Act, which former President Barack Obama signed into law in late 2015, established a Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council to set permitting timetables and create a public online dashboard to track projects.

The USE IT Act further would direct the chairman of the White House's Council on Environmental Quality, or CEQ, to create guidance for aiding developers and operators of carbon capture utilization and storage projects. The CEQ director would have to form two task forces, each responsible for a different geographical area, to identify permitting challenges for carbon capture projects. The task forces must include at least one representative from the EPA, U.S. departments of Energy and Interior and any other federal agency the CEQ chairman deems appropriate, as well as interested states and local and tribal organizations, industry members and nongovernmental organizations.

The introduction of the USE IT Act comes shortly after Congress passed legislation to extend and raise the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture facilities. President Donald Trump signed that legislation into law on Feb. 9.