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Obama panel boosts bid to put greenhouse gas emissions underground

An Obama task force Thursday said that carbon capture – in which greenhouse gas emissions would be stored underground – is feasible. It's seen as a promising way to combat global warming.

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In this April 30, 2009, photo, American Electric Power's Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, W.V., builds a carbon capture system designed to capture greenhouse gas emissions for storage. The demonstration facility is now operational.

Jeff Gentner/AP/file

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An Obama Administration task force today reported that underground storage of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants is technically feasible, but there is little likelihood it will move forward without legislation to put a price on those emissions.

Carbon capture and storage – or CCS – has long been heralded by scientists, environmentalists, and even some in the utility industry as perhaps the only real way to prevent climate change while still enabling the United States to continue burning its massive coal reserves in power plants.

In February, President Obama ordered a comprehensive study of CCS by 14 federal agencies. Today's report offers fresh momentum not only to the effort to devise cost-effective CCS technologies but also to the push for climate-change legislation.

Key among the report's findings:

  • CCS is viable. "There are no insurmountable technical, legal, institutional, or other barriers to the deployment of this technology." The critical barriers are legal and economic, it said.
  • Putting a price on carbon emissions is critical. "Administration analyses of proposed climate change legislation suggest that CCS technologies will not be widely deployed in the next two decades absent financial incentives that supplement projected carbon."
  • Demonstration plants to showcase CCS are needed. At least five to 10 commercial demonstration plants must be built by 2016, the report said. It also recommended creating a federal agency roundtable to coordinate the projects.
  • Legal liability issues need addressing. Previous proposals that the federal government broadly indemnify companies if those underground emissions seeped or gushed out of their underground "is not a viable alternative."
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