The Obama administration is imposing new rules to protect drinking water and track the amount of carbon dioxide stored underground by "clean coal" technology.
The rules, announced Monday, cover an experimental technique to store underground the carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources. The technique, which involves injecting carbon dioxide in stable geologic formations, is designed to reduce greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.
Lisa Jackson, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, said the rules clarify standards for carbon storage, so industry knows what is required as it develops the technology.
"We're taking a major step toward path-breaking innovations that will reduce greenhouse gases and put America in the forefront of the clean energy economy," Jackson said.
The administration wants to encourage carbon storage while overcoming liability obstacles that could hinder its development.
A sudden release of large amounts of carbon dioxide can kill by asphyxiation. In 1986, 1,700 people died when a cloud of carbon dioxide escaped from a volcanic lake in Cameroon.
In a report this summer, an administration task force advised against the government taking on unlimited liability for underground storage of carbon dioxide. The task force said the government could take it on at closed sites if federal regulators certify that the carbon dioxide is safely sequestered and will remain that way indefinitely.
The Energy Department has estimated that there are hundreds to thousands of years of potential carbon storage in geologic formations in North America.
Ann Weeks, senior counsel for the Clean Air Task Force, an advocacy group, called the new rules a critical step in the battle to curb global climate change.
"The early and environmentally safe deployment of innovative technologies like carbon capture and sequestration that allow deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is critical to our country's ability to avoid the worst consequences of climate change," she said.
The new rule concerning greenhouse gas emissions takes effect Dec. 31. The rule on drinking water takes effect next summer.