Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) joins key Dems in proposal to boost carbon capture and storage in climate bill

Sen. Robert Byrd from the coal state of West Virginia has long been seen as a pretty rock solid ‘no’ vote on the climate bill. Nate Silver’s “Probability of Yes” vote for Byrd is 19.4%, and I’ve heard that’s optimistic. He said this summer he wouldn’t vote for the House bill “in its present form” — although, like most Senators, he probably doesn’t know what in it.

Still, he has decided to engage in the process of working with other Democratic senators to push carbon capture and storage technology. His office press release quotes him saying:

“If our nation is to benefit from the next generation of clean coal technology, the private sector needs greater certainty and robust financial support in order to make the necessary investments….

I will continue to engage the Administration and the Senate to make sure that West Virginians have a seat at the table during this climate debate.”

E&E News PM (subs. req’d) had a big story on this Friday night, with details on the proposal:

Five influential coal-state Senate Democrats floated today they say would help with the widespread commercial deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technologies.

Sens. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Warner of Virginia, and Arlen Specter and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania stand out among a group of eight Democrats calling on the Environment and Public Works and Finance committees to include a range of special incentives for the electric utility and coal industries in cap-and-trade legislation this fall.

They requested several changes to the House-passed climate bill, H.R. 2454, including more funding and bonus allowances to power companies as they face greenhouse gas emission limits on their new and existing plants. That would essentially allow power plant owners to collect more money in allowances as they sequester more emissions.

You can read the proposal here, but I wouldn’t bother because it’s pretty okay and certain to change more than once as this process evolves. It throws even more money at coal with carbon capture and storage, which I suspect is relatively pointless (see “Is coal with carbon capture and storage a core climate solution?”) And I doubt the money will even get spent because CCS is just too damn expensive (see Harvard stunner: “Realistic” first-generation CCS costs a whopping $150 per ton of CO2 “” 20 cents per kWh!)

But I could be wrong, and it’s early well worth finding out if CCS works. That’s especially true since if it does, the future is cofiring coal and biomass with CCS and producing negative-carbon electricity. If more money for CCS gets Byrd’s vote — at least to block a filibuster — and the votes of people like Baucus, it’s well worth it. True, he might well bail on the final bill, but engaging him in the process seems like a positive step.

The biggest flaw in the proposal seems to be that gives too much money upfront to new coal plants that promise to do CCS, but then has no penalties if they fail to deliver on the CCS. That needs to be fixed, but I can’t see many scenarios where new coal plants without CCS get built after this bill passes. And the only CCS plants that get built will be ones that the government essentially covers most of the cost of, which means not bloody many until costs drop sharply, probably post-2030.

Here are more excerpts from the story:

Separately, the group suggested an exemption from new greenhouse gas technology standards on coal mines and landfill methane projects. Instead, they asked for both to be added to the list of domestic offset projects that industry could fund as an alternative to making their own direct emission reductions.

A Senate Democratic aide said this change could result in expanding the domestic offset pool by as much as 45 percent.

Without going into specifics, the group also urged the Senate to include language that addresses the legal liability for long-term carbon storage. And it encouraged the establishment of a $10 billion, 10-year program that would help get carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology into widespread use around the country — something that already is in the House-passed bill.

The senators also want to include a congressional finding that “it is in the public interest to achieve widespread, commercial-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage, both in America and throughout Asia before January 1, 2030.”

The draft language is the result of a working group led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) established in April as part of a broader outreach campaign to senators who do not sit directly on the relevant committees writing the climate bill. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also signed onto the draft language.

“We believe our nation needs all sources of energy — including coal — to meet our future demands,” the group wrote to EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). “We also know that other countries, such as China and India, depend heavily on coal as an energy resource. Therefore, widespread, commercial-scale deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology for coal will be critical if we are to meet our national and global climate goals.”

The senators said it is “imperative” that their legislative suggestions make it into the final climate change bill, though none of them promised that these requests alone would win their vote. Each said they have “other priorities” as the Senate forges ahead with its sweeping energy and global warming package….

“We’re very encouraged to see such a diverse group of senators working together, making progress, and moving climate legislation forward,” said Tony Kreindler, a spokesman at the Environmental Defense Fund.“It is a good-faith effort to address the legal and regulatory barriers to widespread deployment of CCS,” added Paul Bledsoe of the National Commission on Energy Policy,