The EuroParliament’s Schwarzenegger Clause and CCS

Carbon sequestration — the notion that carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations and other major greenhouse gas emitters can be captured and stored underground — is taking a lot of hits from environmental activists bent on banning coal outright. For a taste, check out this recent post on the Gristmill green blog by Joseph Romm, a most articulate carbon capture critic. Political leaders, in contrast, appear far more supportive, and it’s not just American presidential candidates wooing coal-country voters. Last week European parliamentarians voted to finance largescale sequestration demo projects with a generous €10-billion fund and, better still, approved what they called a ‘Schwarzenegger Clause’ to mandate carbon capture for new generating stations from 2015. Like an existing requirement approved by California’s governor the clause sets a 500 gram CO2 per kilowatt-hour emissions limit that coal-fired plants can beat only with carbon capture.

The U.K.’s Environment Agency had already recommended a ban new coal-fired power plants that don’t use carbon capture and storage (CCS) the week before.

Part of the European motivation, as French and British leaders have made clear, is that CCS is more than a key to meeting agressive climate change action goals. They are also a critical means of keeping coal in the mix and thus limiting Europe’s dependence on imported oil and gas from Russia and the Middle East.

In the U.S., meanwhile, Al Gore is calling for civil disobediance to force adoption of the same CCS mandate. In fact, there are already steps in this direction even in North America beyond Schwarzenegger’s innovations:A panel appointed by Arkansas’ governor recommended last month the state approve no new coal plants until CCS is ready; the Canadian government floated a plan this spring to require CCS at new bitumen-to-oil plants in Alberta’s tarsands from 2012; and last fall British Columbia decreed a no-new CO2 from coal policy that stalled two proposed coal-fired plants (one may go forward as a biomass plant to burn trees killed by a warming-enabled infestation of beetles).

A wildcard to watch: weakening political resolve in the face of the global finance crisis. According to this report from Agence France Press yesterday, a few European leaders are wavering on greenhouse gas emissions as energy-intensive industries face tough times ahead.

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