CCS and climate legislation top priorities for Copenhagen, US Energy Secretary tells London gathering

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Chu also reiterated his hope that President Barack Obama would be able to sign a domestic carbon-cutting bill before a crunch global climate meeting in Copenhagen in December.

Chu told to participants in the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum in London that the United States is spending more than $4 billion on technologies to capture and store CO2 emissions, news agencies reported.

Bellona President Frederic Hauge was also present at the Forum where Chu was one of the keynote speakers.

“Finding safe, affordable, broadly deployable methods to capture and store carbon dioxide is clearly among the most important issues scientist have ever been asked to solve,” Chu said in his addresss.

“We can and should and must strive to do so within the next eight to 10 years.”

Coal accounts for half of US electricity generation, and produces about a third of the nation’s energy-related CO2 emissions, according to the Energy Information Administration. The United States has the world’s largest coal reserves.

But Chu also emphasised that, despite domestic difficulties, that the US Administration had its nose to the grindstone to produce climate legislation prior to the Copenhagen meetings.

The prospective US law is widely considered vital to allow the United States to take a firm stance in Copenhagen, and so unblock an impasse on targets to cut carbon emissions and funding to fight climate change at the United Nations-led talks.

"Whether there will be a bill on the President’s desk and he’ll sign it, I’m hopeful it will be," he told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting on clean coal technologies in London, Reuters reported.

"It’ll be tight (but) there’s a good shot."

Chu’s comments poured cold water on comments made by Carol Browner,  director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, who said over a week ago that she did not expect the US Senate, where the legislation is currently under review, to act in time for Copenhagen.

Democratic Senators John Kerry and Barbara Boxer have introduced legislation that would cut U.S. industry emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases by 20 percent below 2005 levels by 2020.

As ambitious a goal as this is for the United States, which languished in the global climate fight under the administration of George Bush, EU and other nations, like Norway, have already committed themselves to cuts of 30 percent and more below 1990 levels, which pale the US proposals.

But Chu insisted in London that the US would be bringing something worthwhile to the negotiating table come December.

In a direct answer to a question put to him by Bellona’s Hauge, Chu responded that, “We have a bill being considered by the Senate, and we hope there will sensible legislation in place before the climate summit in Copenhagen.”

"But if this does not happen, there is a Supreme Court decision that gives us another opportunity,” Chu elaborated. “With this legal decision, the EPA is at the ready with a hammer. It is a good staring point.”

At the beginning of this month, the EPA’s chief administrator, Lisa Jackson, was given the power to begin regulating CO2 and other principle greenhouse gasses produced by hundreds of power plants and large industrial facilities under the aegis of the US Clean Air Act.

This decision followed on a Supreme Court ruling that had been ignored during the Bush administration that put deciding whether CO2 and other greenhouse gasses were pollutants subject to regulation in the EPA’s hands.

“This is startling and interesting news ahead of UN climate summit in Copenhagen,” said Hauge about the signals Steven Chu was sending to the participants at the CO2 conference in London.

Hauge asserted that Chu’s remarks shows that the United States is not only interested in talking about emissions trading , but also obviously want to discuss so-called Emissions Performance Standards.”

"In the meantime,” Chu said, “we’re going to Copenhagen with substantive things." This was a reference to US plans to spend some $80 billion on clean energy under economic stimulus spending, and a recently passed standard for auto emissions.

Discussion of the US climate legislation has beeb stymied in the Senate by other pressing domestic issues, such as the US healthcare bill and dealing with the continuing Wall Street meltdown.

But Chu was upbeat that these would not pose major setbacks to the climate bill.

"We are making progress on the domestic front," he told reporters.

Chu would not comment on whether the United States could commit to a near-term carbon target in Copenhagen without the bill passed, Reuters reported.

"We’re not going to lay out plans B, C and D. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re going to try make plan A work," he said.

UN brokers have said that rich countries must commit to 2020 greenhouse gas targets to consider a Copenhagen deal a success, a position long shared by Bellona.

Magnus Borgen contributed to this report.