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New Push for Low Carbon Emissions Uses Tactic from 1970s

Water pollution in river - Global warmingOver the past decade, many industries have attempted to find a concrete method of cutting down on carbon emissions, but so far nothing has worked. Research, projects, and investments over recent decades, while they have been promising, end up being too costly and difficult to follow through on.

Yet today Ohio Senator Rob Portman and Colorado Senator Michael F. Bennet believe they have found a way to push the industry in the right direction. They are proposing a bill which would qualify carbon capture projects for tax-exempt, private activity bonds. The projects are thought to be integral to aiding facilities in meeting greenhouse gas restrictions and proved to be a key in decreasing air pollution in the 1970s and 1980s.

Portman says industrial facilities “used some of these private-activity-type bonds” to install equipment like “scrubbers and so on back in the day.”

Industrial production plants have been using carbon dioxide for decades, and there are numerous processes for capturing the carbon. In oil fields, oil recovery is used to extract petroleum by injecting carbon dioxide underneath the ground and holding the carbon there.

Many people, however, are not supportive of carbon capture or its storage because it is a risky process. The technology the industry uses is not proven because it isn’t widely used.

“It’s less about how to make it work technically these days but more about how to make it work financially,” said Dan Reicher, who helped draft the proposed legislation and is the executive director of the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford University.

Worldwide, there are only 15 large-scale CCS projects, mainly in Canada and the Middle East. Supporters say that by giving companies the tax-exempt option, they will be able to easily meet global guidelines for carbon emissions. It will also help them to be compliant with the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which has set further emissions goals. In addition, it may help to slow down global warming, and many say it is one of the only ways to do so.

“It’s an interim way to get a particular technology built at scale to bring costs down,” said Armond Cohen, executive director of the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group based in Boston that supports the approach. “The only projects that are actually moving forward right now are the ones that have a revenue stream from enhanced oil recovery.”

Private activity bonds are allowed under federal tax codes in cases where there is a project aiming to handle solid/hazardous waste and sewage at a privately owned facility. Air pollution control and controlling emissions would fall under this area if the bill were to pass. Supporters say the bill updates the existing federal tax code to bring it into this era of policy and technology.

Despite these arguments, opponents are not convinced. They say that using tax-exempt bonds for private development and projects like this end up stopping other projects from reaching their goals.

“By opening up a broader world for private activity bonds, you squeeze out other projects,” said Gregory F. Jenner, a former federal tax policy official who is now a lawyer at Stoel Rives in Washington.

Using these bonds would cost taxpayers about $29 million over the course of five years, and about $128 million over 10 years.

“This is a way, in a relatively inexpensive way, to solve a problem that needs to be solved,” Mr. Portman said.

This legislation marks another chapter of the fight against hazardous waste wreaking havoc on the environment. According to the Resource Conversation and Recovery Act, hazardous waste is something that had the potential to cause or at least significantly contribute to illnesses and other hazards that could hurt humans or the environment when it is not properly treated, stored, and disposed of.

While many don’t believe this is an issue, earlier this week in Upstate New York, it was announced that a Niagara landfill has reached capacity for hazardous waste. A letter from CWM Chemical Services was sent to the State Department of Environmental Conservation to confirm that they had accepted their last load.

They are the only licensed hazardous waste landfill in the entire state, and they have been in operation for 21 years. The facility holds five million tons of waste currently. They have pushed for more than a decade for a new facility to no avail.