How US Environmental policy has suffered yet another setback to attaining a “clean economy”

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American Electric Power (AEP) made an announcement last Thursday July 14th, 2011, explaining that it was placing its plans for commercialization of Carbon Capture Storage (CCS) technology on hold. As a result of this it would now seem that what was once considered a potentially good method of mitigating carbon emissions here in the US, has finally been relegated to a status similar to that of Hydraulic Fracturing given its bad reputation amongst environmentalists as a water polluting GHG energy source.

AEP’s CEO, Mr Michael G. Morris, explained that the main reason behind the company’s decision to pull the plug on this initiative was due to the state of the recession in the US and the level of Congressional reluctance to pass any form of “federal requirement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions already in place”. The initiative originally began in 2009 when the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded AEP $334 million through the Clean Coal Power Initiativeto pay for part of the installation costs of a commercial-scale CCS system at AEP’s Mountaineer coal-fueled power plant in New Haven, West Virginia. The project was meant to be completed in four phases but was terminated after reaching the end of phase one in May of 2011 and having received no federal funds.

This announcement presents a new setback for the Obama administration which sought to find alternative GHG mitigation methods to reinforce its aim of achieving a clean energy economy. This struggle indeed seems to have perpetuated itself ever since Mr Obama’s party (Democrats) failed to win a majority at the last congressional elections in November of 2010. With this political setback, many doubt the potential for passing any further legislation that could ever resemble the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, the closest U.S. attempt at matching legislation that established the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU ETS), Europe’s now well established Cap and Trade system.

Rio +20, the United Nation’s next environmental conference on Sustainable Development, will be hosted in Rio de Janeiro in June 2012 to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first Earth Summit. With such environmental policy failures on US green technology initiatives, it would seem that Mr Obama will need all the help he can get from environmental non profits and key stakeholders such as the business community and civil society to help create a better understanding of the benefits of a ‘clean economy’. Should this work, it would allow environmental policy to be lifted back up to the top of the American political agenda. However, without such a collaboration its hard to see how US policy initiatives will ever be in a capacity to marry Rio +20’s aim of attaining a “green economy”.

by Marc Jourdan, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Leadership Intern

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