Schematic diagram of possible CCS systems showing the sources for which CCS might be relevant, transport of CO2 and storage options; Courtesy of CO2CRC

Carbon capture and storage projects and U.S. debt ceiling deal come under fire

As the energy transition continues to make waves on the global stage, multiple solutions are put into play to achieve decarbonisation targets. One of these solutions is carbon capture and storage (CCS), which activists, like Earthjustice, see as a lifeline that the fossil fuels industry can grab in a bid to extend oil and gas reign on the energy throne. The organisation also views the deal to raise the debt ceiling in the U.S. as another mechanism that oil and gas players can take advantage of to get a green light for more fossil fuel projects in the future.

Schematic diagram of possible CCS systems showing the sources for which CCS might be relevant, transport of CO2 and storage options; Courtesy of CO2CRC

Earthjustice wants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop Louisiana from taking a gamble with carbon capture and storage projects, as it believes that the buildout of such projects would put at risk the country’s clean energy future. The non-profit environmental law organisation claims that the fossil fuel industry is championing carbon capture and storage projects as a way to increase emissions and profits at the expense of frontline communities, taxpayers, and the global climate under the guise of cutting carbon emissions and combatting the climate crisis.

James Yskamp, Senior Attorney, Fossil Fuels Programme, remarked: “For far too long, the fossil fuel industry has been dumping its pollution in low-income communities and communities of colour in Louisiana. Now, the industry is making false promises to those same communities about carbon capture so they can keep polluting. Many frontline leaders have serious concerns over the state of Louisiana’s track record of failing to regulate other polluting industries.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has committed to advancing environmental justice for overburdened communities. So, its recent proposal to hand over primary responsibility for the carbon waste injection programme under the Safe Drinking Water Act to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, which has not adequately regulated nor enforced its existing injection well programmes, is concerning.”

Overview of geological storage options; Courtesy CO2CRC

According to Earthjustice, the CCS projects only prolong the life of fossil fuels and continue to pollute “overburdened communities,” as they involve injecting highly pressurized carbon dioxide waste deep into the earth, putting the U.S. drinking water at risk. With Louisiana seeing proposals for the buildout of carbon dioxide waste injection wells, the state could soon be dictating how to regulate or not regulate the way carbon dioxide waste is injected and stored underneath its soil, thus, the environmental law organisation urges the EPA to deny the state’s request to oversee this carbon waste injection programme.

To justify its request, Earthjustice outlines that these CCS projects are being proposed without adequate safeguards to protect public health and the environment of the surrounding communities where these facilities are located. Given what it perceives to be Louisiana’s “abysmal track record,” the environmental law organisation is pulling out all the stops to ensure that strong safeguards will be in place, which prioritise environmental justice review and that the federal government maintains oversight over the emerging technology of carbon waste injection wells.

“We cannot let the Environmental Protection Agency let Louisiana gamble our clean energy future. Let’s tell this administration to protect communities from harmful carbon capture and storage projects,” added Yskamp.

Meanwhile, CO2CRS points out that further delays in accepting the role of carbon capture utilisation and storage (CCUS) will put the world’s ability to meet ambitious emissions reduction targets “in grave doubt and make future adoption of the technology far less cost-effective.”

Debt ceiling deal: a step forward or back?

While many have welcomed the U.S. debt ceiling deal, some, such as Earthjustice, consider it to be a slap in the face to environmental justice communities. As a result, the environmental law organisation slammed Republican leaders for “holding the country’s economy hostage,” after Republicans and the White House announced the deal to raise the debt ceiling in a bid to avert an economic crisis.

Abigail Dillen, Earthjustice President, commented: “It is shameful that House Republicans are holding the entire economy hostage to advance an agenda that sacrifices the wellbeing of millions of Americans for the benefit of billionaires and oil and gas companies. Republicans raised or suspended the debt limit under former President Trump three times without any strings attached, and this should have once again been a clean debt limit raise. Among the concessions in the deal are revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act that will enable profit-driven industries to lead the environmental review process for their own projects.

“It also sets arbitrary, one-size-fits-all deadlines that are likely to encourage litigation while discouraging the upfront, public engagement and smart analysis that are essential to the success of needed infrastructure projects, including new clean energy projects. These and other changes to our bedrock environmental protections are too important to be negotiated as a ransom for meeting the country’s debt obligations.”

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Earthjustice underlines that this deal cuts spending for programmes deemed “critical” to environmental protections and social safety net while entailing changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, and provisions that bypass judicial review to mandate approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

“Greenlighting this massive gas pipeline and entrenching reliance on fossil fuels is directly counter to the overwhelming national interest in transitioning quickly to clean energy and reining in runaway climate change. In bypassing the ongoing judicial process and mandating permit approvals, the deal sets a dangerous precedent that will do enduring harm to communities that are bearing the brunt of fossil fuels extraction and pollution in Appalachia,” added Dillen.

Moreover, Dillen points out that even though the deal preserves “essential spending” passed in the Inflation Reduction Act to spur transformative clean energy deployment, it is not doing anything to hasten the development of new transmission infrastructure.

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In contrast, the American Petroleum Institute (API) has welcomed the deal with open arms as it believes that the bipartisan agreement to raise the nation’s debt ceiling includes important progress on permitting reform.

Mike Sommers, API President and CEO, stated: “We applaud Congress and the Biden administration for reaching a bipartisan agreement that includes important progress on permitting reform. Our current system for reviewing the infrastructure projects that fuel our economy and support our way of life did not become an endless gauntlet of bureaucratic hurdles overnight, and it will take more than one step to develop a workable process.

“This is a positive start, and we look forward to continuing to work with policymakers on both sides of the aisle to pass this agreement and build on this progress.”