Climate Protection: German States Block Carbon Capture Law

The German government had hoped to push through a new law allowing the testing of underground greenhouse gas storage, in hopes of slowing climate change. But on Friday the country's states blocked the plans by rejecting the proposed bill. Germany could now face action by the European Union.

The CCS testing facility Schwarze Pumpe. Zoom
DPA

The CCS testing facility Schwarze Pumpe.

Plans in Germany to test underground carbon dioxide storage to combat global warming have been blocked by the country's upper legislative chamber. The Bundesrat, which represents the 16 federal states, rejected a bill on Friday that had already been passed by the German parliament, the Bundestag, in August. The law would have allowed testing for carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at former gas storage facilities. The federal government wanted to put the technology to the test until 2017 in two or three locations, with a maximum capacity of three million tons of CO2 a year.

CCS works by liquefying the environmentally-unfriendly gas emitted by power plants and pumping it into underground cavities. The technology is considered a prerequisite for allowing coal-fired power stations to continue operating economically in Germany in the long run, as extra CO2 emission permits would otherwise have to be purchased on the open market.

The failure to pass the law in the Bundesrat means that Germany could now be subject to proceedings by the European Union, where CCS directive stipulates that the technology should have been made national law by June.

But there was also no majority in the Bundesrat for invoking the arbitration panel, which means the law can only be saved by a government initiative to bypass the decision. Still, the whole concept would remain in trouble due to serious resistance to CCS among the states.

Violent Protests

Critics point out that carbon dioxide is toxic in high concentrations, arguing that the escape of gas from underground storage facilities cannot be ruled out. In recent years several attempts at an agreement between the federal and state governments have failed. Storage sites require specific geological conditions found mainly in the German states of Lower Saxony and Schleswig-Holstein, where there have been violent protests against the technology.

The federal government's law would give states extensive authority to prohibit CCS on their territory. Lower Saxony, therefore, says it supports the law -- but would not allow any CCS activity. This in turn has angered Brandenburg, which as the major brown coal-producing state, fears it would be the only one forced into storing CO2 in the long run.

There could also be problems with the implementation of CCS testing. Energy giant Vattenfall has complained that the law is only valid until 2016, and that the liability provisions force the operator to take on too much risk. Even if the law is passed, therefore, the conditions needed for the test plant at Jänschwalde to be constructed, using EU funds worth hundreds of millions of euros, would almost certainly not be present.

-- dsk with wires

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