We’re optimistic about federal climate policy. Here’s why.

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By Erin Burns

Erin recently joined Carbon180 as the Associate Director of Policy. She previously worked in the Senate, where she handled energy, agriculture, labor, and mine safety issues, and at Third Way, where she was a Senior Policy Advisor managing their carbon capture, innovation, and legislative strategy work.

At Carbon180, we’ve always known that federal policy is a critical tool for getting us to a world that removes more carbon than we emit. Due in part to our work and the work of our partners, we’ve reached a major inflection point for carbon removal policy.

We’ve seen enormous interest from Congress this year in enacting federal policy to remove and recycle carbon. In February, the deeply bipartisan FUTURE Act passed into law, updating an existing tax credit in a number of ways, including making direct air capture and beneficial use eligible for the first time. Shortly after passage, the Senators who led this effort introduced the USE IT Act, which would provide RD&D funding for direct air capture and carbon use, as well as take important steps towards understanding what infrastructure is needed to enable widespread deployment of carbon capture, removal, and use technologies. And just in October, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report that made the case for carbon removal even more clear.

To ensure we’re able to take advantage of this inflection point to enact serious federal policy changes that move us towards a net-negative carbon future, I’m joining the organization as their Associate Director of Policy and opening their second office, based in Washington, DC. As much action and commitment as we’ve seen from members of this past Congress, there are a few reasons we’re even more optimistic about what we can get done next year.

Though recent efforts, including the bills listed above, have been overwhelmingly bipartisan, historically carbon capture and related technologies have been primarily championed by Democrats. With Democrats taking control of the House, we can expect to see more interest in climate broadly and in key solutions like carbon removal. In fact, carbon removal was included in Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal — the most prominent climate effort from a new member. And with Democrats leading committees that focus on energy and climate issues, we’ll be hearing from more scientists about the kinds of technologies and policies we need to mitigate and reduce emissions. Overall, we’ll see a bigger spotlight on how to fix climate change, and that will include a role for carbon removal.

Then there’s the increasing pressure for Congress to act on climate. As it turns out, carbon capture, removal, and use are not only necessary to meet climate goals but also one of the few arenas for bipartisan action. With more Americans experiencing firsthand the impacts of a changing climate, the calls for the federal government to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions have been growing steadily louder. One of the few areas — in climate policy or otherwise — where there has been consistent bipartisan action is carbon removal and use. In addition to the passage of the FUTURE Act, there’s been a lot going on: the USE IT act passed out of committee by voice vote, there are bipartisan bills to increase the amount of work the Department of Energy is doing on carbon removal and use, there are bills to improve land-based carbon removal, and, well, you get the picture. If you want to get something done on climate in Congress, carbon removal policy is a good bet.

Finally, there are lots (and lots) of reasons to support carbon removal and use. While climate motivates Carbon180 and many of the biggest champions on the hill, like Senator Whitehouse and Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, other members focus on other benefits. By turning waste carbon into valuable products (everything from building materials to fuels), carbontech can bring new jobs and economic benefits to communities across the country. While this sector is relatively new, there are already pilots in dozens of states and even more districts, motivating new members to engage on this issue. These additional benefits mean there’s a really broad set of constituencies ready to advocate for carbon solutions. We’re seeing universities, major companies, farmers, environmental organizations, and unions supporting the whole suite of carbon removal solutions. So, even if you don’t care about climate change, there’s a good chance you still have a reason to care about carbon removal.

Over the years, carbon capture has been a part of most major climate and energy bills. With new House leadership, growing pressure to act on climate, and a larger and broader set of Congressional champions, we’re pretty optimistic about the chances for serious federal policy action on carbon removal.

Interested in learning more? Register for our webinar, U.S. Carbon Removal Policy Outlook 2019, to hear experts discuss these topics in more detail.

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