AEP’s Decision To Drop CCS Project Demonstrates Imprudence of Ex-Rep. Boucher’s Cap-and-Trade “Deal”

by William Yeatman on July 17, 2011

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In the summer of 2009, former Rep. Rick Boucher* (D-VA) negotiated a deal on behalf a small block of lawmakers representing coal-dependent districts in the House of Representatives, whereby they agreed to support the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade energy-rationing bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act) in exchange for generous taxpayer subsidies for carbon capture and sequestration. CCS is an as-yet-undemonstrated technology that would capture millions of tons of greenhouse gases, concentrate them, and then pipe them into underground geologic formations for permanent storage. The imprudence of Rep. Boucher’s “deal” was evidenced last Thursday, when American Electric Power, an Ohio-based utility, shelved a $668 million pilot project to retrofit with CCS a 1,300 megawatt coal-fired power plant in New Haven, West Virginia. The Department of Energy had agreed to pay for half the cost of the project, yet it was still too risky for AEP.

The failure of this CCS demonstration project, despite ultra-generous taxpayer subsidies, is not the only reason that lawmakers from coal-states should be wary of this “deal” (i.e., trading a cap-and-trade vote for CCS subsidies). Even if AEP had continued with the CCS retrofit, environmental extremists, for whom coal is an evil, would have litigated at every turn. Given the uncertain science of permanently storing millions of tons of gases underground, there would be virtually unlimited opportunities for these special interests to sue.

Another major inhibition to the deployment of CCS is the unwillingness of communities to live above the storage site. In Germany, for example, a CCS project is facing dogged resistance from wary locals. It is almost impossible to build a transmission line in America, due to “Not in My Backyard” opposition; undoubtedly, CCS would engender the same sort of obstruction.

In 2009, Rep. Boucher basically bet that cap-and-trade wouldn’t kill the coal industry, as long as CCS became commercially viable within a decade. If you believe that CCS can happen on this time frame, or on any time frame, then I’d like to introduce you to a wealthy Nigerian friend who needs help moving millions of dollars from his homeland and who promises a hefty percentage of his fortune for assisting him.

*[N.B. In November 2011 2010, after 14 terms in the House of Representatives, Rep. Boucher was voted out of office. In large part, his election loss was due to his support for the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade energy-rationing bill in the 111th Congress. Rep. Boucher represented the 9th District in Virginia, where the coal industry is a leading employer. His constituents felt betrayed by his support for cap-and-trade, which is awful for the economy as a whole, but which is particularly damaging to the coal industry. They voted accordingly.]

Daniel Hobbs July 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I was a staffer of the former Congressman. Little known to the voters who chose to shun a dedicated and proven 28 year veteran statesman in favor of a carpetbagger who ran the nastiest campaign the district has ever seen, is the fact that the CEO’s of every major coal company in the region personally asked Rick to be part of those negotiations. They knew, like anyone with half a brain did, that this bill was going to pass the House regardless of his vote. He worked tirelessly to get many concessions in that legislation because he knew it would pass, and did not squander the opportunity to limit its damages to the coal industry in his district. He, as he did time and time again for 28 years, put common sense governance ahead of partisan political gamesmanship. For this, and his endorsement of a black man for President, he was defeated by the ignorant and racist 52 percent of the district, many of whom crawled out of their delapidated trailers to cast their misinformed vote. Their trailers which have running water and internet access because of Rick Boucher.

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