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Emissions rise from a coal-fired power plant

A coal-fired power plant is seen in Adamsville, Alabama on April 13, 2021. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

'A Dangerous Bet': Analysts Question Manchin Bill's Carbon Capture Promises

"Carbon capture has been largely an exercise in expensive failure, and there is no reason to think that additional taxpayer subsidies will change that."

Jake Johnson

Senate Democrats have repeatedly claimed that the Inflation Reduction Act would reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 40% by the end of the decade, a figure used to tout the bill's potentially transformative climate impact despite its myriad flaws.

But is that estimate of the legislation's emissions-reduction capacity reliable?

"This law should be considered a starting point for more powerful measures that stop new fossil fuel developments."

The environmental group Food and Water Watch (FWW) suggested Thursday that it may not be, given the reliance on "highly dubious predictions about the effectiveness of carbon capture, and the notion that the industry would see massive growth in just a matter of months."

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)—which the House is expected to pass on Friday—includes significant tax incentives for the development of carbon capture and sequestration, technology favored by the oil and gas industry that critics say is a phony solution standing in the way of the necessary phase-out of fossil fuels.

Despite receiving huge injections of federal funds in recent years, carbon capture and storage projects have largely proven to be failures in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. Recent research has shown that major carbon capture efforts in the U.S. have actually led to a net increase in carbon emissions.

Yet the most prominent analysis of the IRA's emissions-reduction potential—a 36-page report spearheaded by Princeton University's REPEAT Project—puts significant weight on the ability of carbon capture technology to rein in emissions given the helping hand provided by the IRA's expansion of the so-called 45Q tax credit.

The Princeton analysis "estimates that climate emissions will be reduced by 42% from 2005 levels (this is compared to 27% reductions with no new policies)," FWW notes. "That prediction rests in part on a massive, nearly immediate growth in carbon capture, an industry plagued by decades of massive failures. The REPEAT analysis acknowledges that carbon capture is currently responsible for almost no emissions reductions. Somehow, captured carbon would go from nearly zero to 50 megatons by 2024, mostly from coal plants."

On page 13 of its report, the REPEAT Project claims that "the total volume of CO2 captured for transport and geologic storage across energy and industry could reach 200 million tons per year by 2030, if sufficient investment in transport networks and storage basins can be deployed."

Jim Walsh, FWW's policy director, argued that "this is a highly dubious assumption; carbon capture has been largely an exercise in expensive failure, and there is no reason to think that additional taxpayer subsidies will change that."

"The Inflation Reduction Act does not deliver mandates to cut pollution; it creates incentives that may drive up private investment, and it delivers billions to fossil fuel corporations based on the notion that their climate pollution can be somehow captured. This is a dangerous bet," Walsh added. "This law should be considered a starting point for more powerful measures that stop new fossil fuel developments, and put substantial public resources into genuine forms of clean, renewable energy."


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