Blog Post

All Global Warming Is Local

Kalama, Wash. is just a speck off the I-5 between Portland and Seattle, but it’s turning into an early battleground over the viability of carbon capture and sequestration.

The Washington Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council this week rejected a proposal to build a $1.5 billion coal gasification plant in Kalama. The proposal was put forth by a consortium of utilities called Energy Northwest, but the regulatory commission said the plan was not in compliance with a Washington state law that limits the amount of carbon emitted by new power plants to levels released by high-efficiency natural gas plants.

The debate essentially boils down to whether or not carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a currently available technology. Energy Northwest argues that it’s not, so they wanted to buy carbon offsets. The state council agreed with opponents of the plant, who argued that “Some projects must be within the first wave of technological development — if all waited until a technology became mainstream, technology would never reach mainstream.”

It highlights an interesting aspect of the CCS debate. Fossil-fuel energy companies are well-served by having the technology remain on the drawing board, devoid of any “industrial-scale” field deployments. It lets them point to technology that will eventually make them clean -– forestalling complaints that coal should be done away with completely -– while allowing the companies to claim they can’t build something that hasn’t already been built.

The ruling comes at a time when, in the absence of real federal legislation, a host of local, state, and regional governmental bodies are passing legislation to fight greenhouse gas emissions. California was first, but Washington followed in May of this year. If state governments use the teeth they’ve built into these laws, as Washington’s did, maybe the now-neutered federal Energy Bill won’t end up meaning much.