Now it’s responsible for helping to clean up the industry. 

In July the agency, which has about 600 employees and a roughly $900 million budget, added “and Carbon Management” to its name, signaling a major part of its new mission: to help develop the technology and build an industry that can prevent the release of carbon dioxide from power plants and factories, suck it out of the air, transport it, and permanently store it. 

The Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management (FECM) continues to operate a research division focused on the production of oil, gas, and coal. But it’s now named the Office of Resource Sustainability and its central task is minimizing the impacts from the production of those fossil fuels, says Jennifer Wilcox, a carbon removal researcher, who joined the office at the start of the Biden administration. She now serves as principal deputy assistant secretary of FECM, overseeing both research and development divisions along with Brad Crabtree, the assistant secretary of the office. 

FECM’s efforts will be turbocharged by a series of recent federal laws, including the Inflation Reduction Act, which significantly boosts tax subsidies for carbon capture, removal, and storage. The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law in August, authorizes (but doesn’t actually appropriate) $1 billion for carbon removal research and development at FECM. But most notably, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that Biden enacted in late 2021 will direct some $12 billion into carbon capture and removal, including pipelines and storage facilities. 

The FECM will play a key role in determining where much of the money goes.

Jennifer Wilcox, a prominent carbon removal researcher, is the principal deputy assistant secretary at the US Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management.

Following the passage of the infrastructure law, the Department of Energy announced a $2.5 billion investment to accelerate and validate ways of safely storing carbon dioxide in underground formations, as well as $3.5 billion in funding for pilot and demonstration projects aimed at preventing nearly all carbon emissions from fossil-fuel power plants and industrial facilities, such as those producing cement, pulp and paper, and iron and steel. It has also moved ahead with a $3.5 billion program to develop four regional hubs for direct-air-capture projects, an effort to develop factories that can suck at least 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide from the air each year. 

Last week, I spoke with Wilcox and Noah Deich, deputy assistant secretary for carbon management within FECM, about the new direction at the Department of Energy, where the billions of dollars will be put to work, and how they’re striving to address concerns about carbon capture and the ongoing harms from fossil fuels.

‘We need to invest today’

Wilcox and Deich face a tricky balancing act.

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