Along with deep emissions reduction and enhancement of nature-based removals, removing carbon from the air through novel, technological means such as direct air capture is an essential tool to help keep temperature rise below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F). Leveraging the purchasing power of the federal government can drive market development in this burgeoning industry, while removing millions of tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and directing growth in a way that creates good jobs and prioritizes equity and verifiable removal outcomes. As carbon removal is largely a public good, the government has a distinct role in supporting its development and deployment.

The Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act was reintroduced by Rep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Rep. Scott Peters (D-Calif.) in the U.S. House of Representatives and Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) in the U.S. Senate. First introduced in 2022 by the same policymakers, this updated version of the bill would:

  • Direct the Department of Energy (DOE) to procure an increasing amount of technology-based carbon dioxide removal (CDR), culminating in the removal of 10 million net metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) on a lifecycle basis starting in fiscal year 2035.
Fiscal Year Net metric tons of CO2 procured Maximum price per net metric ton of CO2
2024-2025 50,000 $750
2026-2028 500,000 $500
2029-2031 5,000,000 $300
2032-2034 5,000,000 $200
2035 and after 10,000,000 $150
  • Support a diverse portfolio of viable CDR projects — including a carve-out for 20% of the tons of CO2 removal to come from small-scale projects.
  • Prioritize projects that deliver economic opportunity to areas likely to be impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels; emphasize public engagement and community benefits; and quantify and mitigate any environmental justice impacts.
  • Direct DOE, in coordination with other agencies, to establish standards for monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon removal procured.
  • Require a report starting in 2027 and every two years after that on the progress toward meeting these procurement targets, including description of removal process, amount and price; impacts on environmental justice communities, the environment and health; and labor impacts.
  • Lastly, as an addition from the 2022 version of this bill, it would require DOE, in consultation with other agencies, to submit a report one year after this bill passes examining options for a federal carbon dioxide removal offtake program.

Why This Legislation Is Important

Alongside immediate and significant emission reductions, enacting policies that will increase global technological CDR capacity is critical to meet the scale of CDR needed to stay below 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) of global warming. That means that to avoid the worst impacts of climate change around the world — from increasingly deadly extreme weather events to mounting sea level rise — rapid growth in the technological carbon removal sector is necessary. But technological CDR is a new industry that is providing a public good, and it does not yet have an immediate, at-scale market. Technological CDR is generally a costly investment today, and it needs reliable customers like the federal government that want to pay for the climate services it provides so it can scale up and reduce costs. 

Direct air capture plant in green field with sunny sky
Carbon removal technologies such as direct air capture are designed specifically to clean excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Federal contracts can help grow these innovative industries. Photo by Climeworks

The federal government has the capacity to be a transformational customer for technological CDR. Long-term, dependable federal purchasing of technological CDR, as proposed in the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, would serve as a significant and reliable source of demand for this new market, accelerating CDR deployment in the U.S. The federal government also has the responsibility to serve as a global leader in this emerging industry, given the U.S.’s historically-outsized global emissions footprint.

Further, the government can and should require contractors to responsibly use those federal dollars to deliver demonstrable results across a range of national priorities in addition to climate, such as equitable economic development and high-road labor practices. Federal CDR procurement should pair with policies that ensure its long-term efficacy, manage and mitigate any negative impacts, and maximize the benefits of resulting economic opportunity for underserved and over-polluted communities, and communities negatively impacted by the clean energy transition. Requirements and prioritization around equity, environmental integrity and responsible growth, like those in the Federal Carbon Dioxide Removal Leadership Act, are one tool for ensuring CDR contributes to an equitable net-zero transition and could help set precedents for the industry more broadly.