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$500 Million For... "administrative Expenses"?

Renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and geothermal have received a modest dose of government support in recent years, from production tax credits to state-level renewable-energy mandates. Still, no renewable industry is getting the sort of gargantuan handout that the coal industry's slated to recieve from the Waxman-Markey climate bill, courtesy of Virginia's Rick Boucher, who tacked on the amendment at the last minute. David Sassoon of SolveClimate explains:

[Boucher's amendment] would create the Carbon Storage Research Corporation and funnel $10 billion to support the corporation over the next 10 years, with up to $500 million designated simply for "administrative expenses" to be spent at the discretion of its officers.

The most curious part is where all that money is going to come from. The answer: from every ratepayer who uses electricity, in the form of an almost invisible tax that would average 50-cents-a-month, conveniently referred to as an "assessment." …

The purpose of the Carbon Storage Research Corporation is to "establish and administer a program to accelerate the commercial availability of carbon dioxide capture and storage technologies and methods" through "competitively awarded grants, contracts, and financial assistance." … The corporation would be empowered to collect and spend $1 billion every year, and the bill says that "up to 5 percent of the funds collected in any fiscal year ... may be used for the administrative expenses of operating the Corporation."

Uh, $50 million per year for unsupervised "administrative expenses"? I can't imagine how that could possibly go awry. Now, one clarifying note: The electricity surcharge will only be levied on electricity coming from coal, natural gas, or oil—so it's, in effect, a very tiny carbon tax that won't do much to alter consumer behavior, but will generate a fair bit of money for coal-industry research. (Technically, this surcharge doesn't count as a "tax," since electricity generators have to approve it—although they're almost certainly going to.) In case anyone's curious, there are no comparable centers established by the bill for wind, solar, geothermal, nuclear, efficiency, etc.

By the way, now seems like a good time to link to Scientific American's recent in-depth exploration of the prospects for capturing and sequestering carbon-dioxide emissions from coal plants—the (still-unproven) technology that the industry's depending on to survive in a carbon-constrained world.

P.S. I'd be remiss not to link Craig Rubens's incredibly useful survey of the CCS industry at Earth2Tech.

--Bradford Plumer