The 2020 omnibus bill elevated carbon removal like never before

We’re talking hundreds of millions dedicated to scaling up soil carbon, DAC, and so much more.

by Vanessa Suarez, senior policy advisor

Towards the end of December, Congress passed H.R.133 — a massive omnibus spending bill containing $900 billion for COVID-19 relief, $1.4 trillion for fiscal year 2021 (FY21) appropriations, and new authorizations. As we’ve written before, federal funding is vital for advancing the full suite of carbon removal solutions, from ready-to-deploy approaches like forestry to more nascent technologies like direct ocean capture.

How we got here

In the past two years, carbon removal has started to receive meaningful levels of dedicated funding from Congress for the first time ever. In FY20, Congress began following the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences and ramped up their funding to $68 million for tech-based carbon removal solutions. Following that, the House Appropriations Committee proposed even more ambitious FY21 funding levels and the Senate Appropriations Committee did not fall too far behind (see graph below). FY20 set the stage for funding carbon removal, and FY21 is taking it to the next level.

Let’s talk dollars and cents

The omnibus bill had serious money for carbon removal, both in new authorizations and in FY21 appropriations.

The bill authorized close to $450 million dollars over the next five years solely for carbon removal, including the first ever federal program dedicated to carbon removal RD&D. This program will test, validate, and improve carbon removal with coordination across Offices at the Department of Energy (DOE) — work crucial to reaching the gigaton-scale carbon removal necessary for meeting climate goals. The omnibus also authorizes a carbon removal task force, competitive technology prizes, test centers, pilot and demonstration projects, and a report on the current and emerging carbon removal solutions, their pros and cons, and available federal policy tools for advancing them.

The FY21 appropriations bills included immediate funding for a wide range of carbon removal approaches:

Department of Agriculture: Soil carbon storage is becoming a priority

We’re continuing to see major wins at the Department of Agriculture (USDA) for scaling soil carbon storage. These increases are a first step towards addressing the challenges farmers and ranchers are facing, as identified through our Leading with Soil work. Programs and Offices important for improving soil carbon and soil health have received general funding increases across the board, including Conservation Operations, the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the Economic Research Service. Specifically, key programs with funding level increases include:

NRCS — Soil Surveys

  • +$4,457,000 (with $1,000,000 for a Soil Health Initiative)

NIFA — Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education

  • +$3,000,000

NIFA — Agriculture and Food Research Initiative

  • +$10,000,000

Economic Research Service

  • +$719,000

In addition to funding increases, a number of USDA programs are directed to focus explicitly on soil carbon storage and soil health. The changes would expand capacity for technical assistance for producers looking to adopt soil carbon practices and promote additional research related to soil health and soil carbon. These programs are critical for equipping farmers with the know-how to implement carbon-storing practices and can help fund new technological breakthroughs in the ag sector, like plants that can store more carbon in their root systems.

Department of Energy: $90.5M dedicated for negative emissions technologies

Starting in FY20, funding for negative emissions technologies (NETs) at DOE rose dramatically from functionally zero annual appropriations to tens of millions a year, in line with recommendations from the National Academies of Sciences. FY21 built on this momentum and key programs received increased funding for NETs, with portions set aside for direct air capture (DAC). The numbers below are not funding level increases for programs, as appear above for the USDA, but rather the total funding specified for NETs within DOE:

SC — Basic Energy Sciences + Biological and Environmental Research

  • $22,500,000 for NETs
  • $7,500,000 for DAC

FE — Advanced Manufacturing + Basic Energy Sciences + Biological and Environmental Research

  • $40,000,000 for NETs
  • $15,000,000 for DAC

EERE — Advanced Manufacturing

  • $10,000,000 for DAC

These funding increases across DOE are critical for scaling NETs by supporting much-needed RD&D to quickly drive down the costs of existing technologies and develop innovative new approaches. The funding also bolsters the absolutely necessary expansion of geologic carbon storage.

Other agencies: Funding a foundation for future development

Agencies beyond the USDA and DOE also got FY21 funding to work on carbon removal, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the Department of Defense (DOD). In particular, the funding increase for EPA’s Underground Injection Control’s (UIC) Class VI work is fundamental to ensuring the safe and secure geologic storage of carbon. With funds carved out for expanding the Agency’s storage expertise and capacity, the program will be better equipped to process Class VI permits.

EPA — UIC

  • $3,000,000 for development of expertise and capacity for geologic storage

DOC — NIST

  • $3,000,000 for direct air capture and negative emissions technologies

DOD

  • $7,500,000 for direct air capture and blue carbon

Looking ahead

The omnibus was a big step in the right direction for creating and funding an ambitious federal carbon removal agenda, but we still need more to bring carbon removal solutions to scale. In the near-term, that means continued funding increases for core RD&D, deployment, infrastructure, and regulatory programs, as well as incorporating environmental justice across solutions. Action from Congress thus far has set an exciting precedent for advancing carbon removal in 2021 and beyond.

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