Phil King Sees Obama’s Carbon Task Force as Trojan Horse

February 4, 2010

Texas Energy Report

John Moritz

The author of the bill passed last year to provide up to $100 million in tax breaks for companies that can develop carbon-capturing coal plants in Texas is taking a skeptical stance on President Obama’s formation of a task force to find ways to advance clean coal technologies on a national level.

“I guess I take a conspiratorial approach to this, but I think what he’s doing is looking for ways to develop a cap-and-trade system without going through the legislative process,” state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) told the Texas Energy Report this afternoon.

When King pushed House Bill 469, the so-called “clean coal bill,” through both chambers and on to the governor’s desk last session he made no attempt to conceal the fact that he considered all the concern over global climate change much ado about very little.

But he did recognize that the prevailing political view that carbon-dioxide emissions from traditional coal-fired plants were contributing to climate change was making it impossible to get new coal plants approved. So King was happy to team up with such environmentally conscious Democratic lawmakers as Reps. Rafael Anchía of Dallas and Mark Strama of Austin to ensure that his measure would have broad bipartisan support and that it would result in an ample supply of comparatively low-cost electricity once the state-of-the-art plants came on line.

When he announced his plan to have his top cabinet officials appoint representatives to the administration’s Task Force on Carbon Capture and Storage, the President said he was motivated by the need for reliable and affordable electric power. But he also made clear that he wants the United States to be a leader in the development of clean and renewable energy sources.

Be that as it may, replied King. But he added that Obama also realizes that his initiative to implement a cap-and-trade system that effectively taxes carbon emissions remains moribund in the U.S. Senate. King predicted that to achieve the president’s directive that the task force report back in 180 days with a 10-year plan to perfect capture and sequestration of carbon emissions and to have up to 10 commercial demonstration projects in place by 2016, its members will essentially impose something resembling cap and trade.

Laura Miller, the former Dallas mayor who was among the active proponents for King’s bill, had a far less dark view of the president’s motives for establishing the task force. Miller, the wife of former state Rep. Steve Wolens (D-Dallas), is now a project director for an energy company planning to build one of the world’s first carbon-capturing coal plants near Odessa. Groundbreaking is expected by year’s end and start-up is planned for 2014.

The company, Summit Power of Bainbridge Island, Wash., has been awarded a $350 million grant to help spur development on its West Texas plant. Miller endorsed putting the weight of the federal government behind developing the technology and would welcome the opportunity to serve on the president’s task force or to provide any assistance its members might need.

“As of today, there is no plant on line that is capturing and sequestering carbon,” she told the Energy Report. “Our plant will capture 90 percent. So we’re going from zero to 90 in four years. That’s pretty amazing.”

Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for Texas Environmental Defense, also embraced the president’s plan as a way to establish a market for the technology and to construct a regulatory framework that will guide companies entering the field.

“With a market driver and regulatory framework, we will have resolved the only two fundamental obstacles to widespread deployment of CCS (carbon capture and storage),” Anderson said on an EDF blog. “Subsequently, bringing five to 10 commercial demonstration projects online by 2016 will definitely be achievable.”