While coal supporters and many scientists believe CCS technology can be part of the solution to climate change -- and really the only answer for reducing carbon dioxide emissions and still burning coal -- there are major questions about the cost, scale and feasibility of equipment that would need to be installed on power plants around the world.
During a radio appearance last week, Rahall noted the administration's investments in CCS but said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shouldn't issue rules to limit emissions until CCS technology is ready to be more broadly deployed.
"We need to give industry the time for new technologies to be finalized and kick in that would reduce carbon dioxide emissions," Rahall said on the MetroNews show "Talkline."
Many scientists and policy experts, though, have concluded that climate change regulations need to be "technology-forcing," meaning that utilities won't perfect and deploy the technology until government regulators require them to do so.
Last month, a Congressional Research Service report noted that utilities dropped three major CCS projects that received $729 million from Obama's stimulus program, at least in part because of "uncertainty regarding future regulations and uncertainty regarding the future national climate policy."
One of those projects was AEP's much-touted plan to expand a CCS test at its Mountaineer Plant in New Haven, Mason County.
At the time, then-AEP CEO Michael Morris called his company's decision a "classic 'what comes first?'" situation.
"The commercialization of this technology is vital if owners of coal-fueled generation are to comply with potential future climate regulations without prematurely retiring efficient, cost-effective generating capacity," Morris said. "But as a regulated utility, it is impossible to gain regulatory approval to recover our share of the costs for validating and deploying the technology without federal requirements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already in place."
While its backers say CCS is a vital area for West Virginia to explore, others point to a variety of studies and projections that show that, regardless of climate change rules, coal production in Southern West Virginia is likely to continue to decline because of played-out reserves, continued low natural gas prices and competition from more productive mines in Wyoming and Illinois.
In a May report, the Morgantown-based environmental consulting firm Downstream Strategies projected that coal production in Southern West Virginia and the rest of Central Appalachia would drop by 53 percent between 2011 and 2040.
"It is vital that public officials begin making the political and financial investments necessary to build the foundation for new economic development opportunities in coal-producing counties," said Rory McIlmoil, the report's lead author.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at kw...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1702.