Killing ‘carbon-capture’ Softly

You often hear – and I often write – about the unfashionable ‘need for more government regulation.’ Whether it is exotic financial instruments or greenhouse gas emissions, there is really no other entity who can handle reigning in our excesses at the scale of their own destructive impacts. The discussion is often set up as a public vs. big business, easy-to-understand (if not swallow) debate. But what gets less attention is how much big business needs sustained government policies, too.

American Electric Power, a huge utility company providing electricity mainly in the Midwest, is postponing or killing plans to build a full-scale “carbon capture” facility at its Mountaineer plant, in West Virginia.

Then Fallows hits on the implications:

Companies can’t do this without a sustained government policy. AEP, which is by no means a pinko organization — it is running acampaign now of complaint about burdensome EPA regulations — said the reason it was calling off the plans was governmental failure to set a clean energy/climate policy. By definition, any “cleaner” form of using coal will be more expensive than the current dirty approach, at least in the short run. This is true “by definition” because if the cleaner approaches were cheaper, the utilities would already have switched to them; because the cleanup technology is still in its developmental phase; and because in many places cleaner systems mean new capital investment.

You should also read his cover story on our future with coal, but this is an important addendum to it. It’s the other side of the story of companies needing to know what the regulations will be in order to plan. And whatever they are, companies will adapt. That means even if they hate it, which they will, they will still find a way to profit. Hint to EPA, Congress and the WH: go ahead and do something.