CHEYENNE -- A U.S. Senate committee has passed a bill that seeks to encourage innovation and investment in technology to capture and store carbon dioxide, which is key in helping the coal industry survive in a clean energy world.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, passed the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources on Thursday, according to a statement from Barrasso's office. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., is one of the co-sponsors.
The bill still needs to be considered by the full Senate and the House.
The legislation would establish an award system for scientists and researchers who develop technology to remove and permanently store carbon dioxide. It also establishes an advisory board.
Wyoming is the nation's leading coal-producing state, so it has an interest in supporting coal amid global pressure to address climate change by relying less on coal-fired power plants to generate electricity.
Rob Hurless, energy adviser to Gov. Dave Freudenthal, said he had not seen Barrasso's bill but he supports any efforts that result in more research into carbon capture and storage because of the complexity and challenges it poses.
"I think just in general anything that helps move the ball down the field is a good thing," Hurless said.
Ron Surdam, Wyoming state geologist and director of the carbon management institute at the University of Wyoming, said there is research going on now but that a lack of a national policy on carbon management issues is keeping the effort from being greater.
"I think most people that are in the power-generating business are basically taking a wait-and-see kind of position because they don't really know what's going to be expected of them," Surdam said.
Wyoming, which benefits from thousands of jobs and more than a billion dollars in annual revenue from coal mining in the state, is spending $45 million over the next two years on carbon storage research.
The state also is working with General Electric to build a $100 million facility to research turning coal into a cleaner burning gas.