National Geographic has a story about clean coal. It seems that the federal government is putting up money to test technology that could (possibly) keep carbon out of the air. But without legislation requiring plants to keep carbon out of the air, energy companies aren’t interested in using the technology.

This has led some critics to ask if carbon capture experimentation funds wouldn’t be better spent on searching for ways to generate energy that do not produce as much carbon or require natural resources to be mined, drilled etc.

“You can build a small number of demos, but seriously deploying? It doesn’t have a future without legislation,” says George Peridas, a scientist in the Natural Resources Defense Council climate center. “Unless the finance community has a certainty about what will happen in the policy domain, they won’t go there.”

NRDC parts ways, to some extent, with environmental groups that reject carbon storage outright, arguing that the mining of coal is too damaging or that the huge investments required would be better spent on energy sources that don’t emit carbon in the first place. NRDC has advocated more research on CCS, although the group has been critical of coal industry efforts to block the very climate legislation it sees as essential to spurring the huge investment that is needed.

Opposition to climate legislation indeed proved effective, as repeated efforts to refashion a bill narrowly passed last year by the House failed to garner the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster in the Senate.