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Discussion and research of carbon capture technology — advanced equipment that would capture carbon dioxide emissions at coal-fired power plants and manufacturing facilities — goes back a long way in West Virginia.

The technology was — and, by some, still is — seen as a way to keep coal in the U.S. energy portfolio as power companies and industry have moved to cleaner renewables and natural gas.

Carbon capture is expensive, and results aren’t guaranteed. For instance, the federal Department of Energy invested $1.1 billion in 11 carbon capture and storage technology projects beginning in 2009, while netting only three operational facilities, according to an audit report from the Government Accountability Office.

When the government began ramping up carbon capture investments, renewable energy sources on a large scale also were expensive and impractical. Since then, natural gas and renewable energy sources have come down in cost and increased in effectiveness. Carbon capture has remained expensive and unproven, on a commercial scale.

The GAO is concerned that the government is going to waste billions more in taxpayer dollars pursuing a failed concept. The recently passed $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill includes $3.4 billion over four years for carbon capture and storage pilot projects, $8 billion over five years for hydrogen-related projects and $3.5 billion over five years for direct air capture demonstration projects.

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It’s no surprise to find that kind of funding in the bill, given that Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has long championed the technology in an effort to prolong the life of the dwindling coal industry in West Virginia. Manchin, who has been the key to any legislation the Biden administration wants to pass, also makes a lot of money from coal investments through his brokerage firm, although it is in a blind trust.

Manchin opposes what he calls wasteful or “entitlement” spending on certain government initiatives that focus on people but isn’t concerned about throwing billions of dollars at technology that has a long and observable history as a dead end when it comes to coal plants.

Power producers and corporations might say they have a vested interest in climate change, but, at the end of the day, they’re going to do what makes them the most money on the least investment. If it’s good for the environment, that’s simply a bonus. Carbon capture means a lot of money spent on unreliable technology that ups cost of operation (which, in the case of energy companies, will then be passed on to ratepayers). Federal money eases that investment burden, but some power companies and their executives already view carbon capture as a white elephant.

It’s possible that could change through more research, but it doesn’t seem likely. Concern over massive spending in this sector is warranted. The money would be better spent on initiatives that expedite the state’s energy transition and help secure jobs well into the future for West Virginians.

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