Government: Carbon-Friendly Coal Plants 'Viable' in Next 5 years

A new report on carbon-capture and storage for coal power plants by the U.S. government says that no "insurmountable" technical or legal barriers exist to deploying CCS in U.S. plants—at least not for the first five or 10 such plants to collect carbon emissions and shove them underground.

That's important because climate scientists say that phasing out carbon emissions from coal is a crucial step toward avoiding the worst effects of coal.

Creating some 10 demonstration plants in the United States by 2016, President Barack Obama's goal, will help solve current technical challenges. These are real but not dealbreakers, the report says. But it finds that there must be a price on carbon to spur this progress. It also points to legal and regulatory obstructions, suggesting that they are more serious than technical limitations. And it offers a detailed to-do list—with a few deadlines—for some dozen agencies. These would pave the way for what would be a giant new industry to capture hundreds of millions of tons of CO 2 from American coal plants and transport and store them in the ground. Rules under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and countless local and state laws will need to be modified.

Prepared hastily after President Obama created an interagency task force in February on the topic, the report largely punts on the issue of liability for stored CO2 underground, one of thorniest issues surrounding the massive new undertaking. On that issue, it says a lot more work is needed. However, it does say that demands for the government to assume all liability for stored CO2 are unnecessary.