Members of an internal White House council President Biden established shortly after taking office are at odds with the administration over carbon capture technology which the president’s climate agenda largely hinges upon.
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology — which involves separating CO2 emissions at fossil fuel-fired power plants and industrial factories before transporting that gas via pipeline into a deep underground cavern where it is stored forever — is at the center of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent proposal regulating power sector emissions.
The EPA’s plan — proposed in May and which the agency expects to slash emissions by about 617 million metric tons through 2042 — forces electric power providers to slash pollution by about 90% over the next two decades. To achieve such emissions reductions, power plants must either adopt carbon capture or shut down. The EPA projects there will be no coal plants without the technology by 2035.
However, members and leaders of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC), tasked with providing policy recommendations, have loudly opposed CCS technology and characterized it as a false climate solution. And the council issued a report in May 2021 listing CCS and direct air capture as projects that won’t help communities.
‘President Joe Biden has been vocal about his commitment to environmental justice, but the administration must be willing to listen to those who will be most affected by potential solutions — or false solutions,’ Beverly Wright, a member of the WHEJAC and executive director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, wrote in a op-ed last year.
‘No matter how they tout the benefits of CCS, oil and gas companies are looking for another method to boost profits without consideration for the human or environmental cost,’ she continued. ‘Carbon capture is not a safe, sustainable solution. It will encourage growth of fossil fuel industries and continue the injustice of sacrificing communities of color for profits.’
Earlier this month, Wright issued a joint statement criticizing CCS alongside other environmental activists including WHEJAC co-Chair Peggy Shepard and fellow council members Maria Lopez-Nunez and Nicky Sheats. They said the EPA proposal would be ineffective at combating climate change and would only encourage continued reliance on fossilf fuels.
‘What is being proposed at the federal level is undermining wins achieved at the local and state levels to transition away from fossil fuels and harmful co-pollutants like particulate matter to a just and equitable energy economy,’ the joint statement said.
In addition, NDN Collective, whose climate justice campaign director Jade Begay sits on the WHEJAC, and the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, whose environmental health and justice program director Vi Waghiyi is on the WHEJAC, have also expressed skepticism about CCS adoption.
Also, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, whose senior strategist Miya Yoshitani is a member of the WHEJAC, signed onto a letter blasting CCS with more than 80 other eco groups in October.
‘CCS regularly fails to meet its promises, requires high use of electricity and water, puts communities at real risk of harm, and would prolong the production and use of fossil fuels that are driving the climate emergency and polluting communities,’ the letter stated.
The debate over carbon capture has recently come to a head in Louisiana where state officials are requesting federal approval to assume primacy in regulating CCS projects. Proponents of the request argue it would streamline permitting for such projects and help overcome the backlog of billions-of-dollar CCS projects that have been held up.
In May, the EPA proposed a rule approving the state’s request and has since accepted public feedback during online webinars. The rule would specifically enable the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to monitor permitting for Class VI wells which inject carbon underground.
‘Is it utterly without risk? Nothing is. But we recognize what the primary risks are and anybody who’s trying to get a permit through our office, they’re going to have to address those to our satisfaction,’ Patrick Courreges, a spokesperson for the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, told Fox News Digital.
Courreges added that the state’s regulations are actually more restrictive than the EPA’s and would better protect the environment. But because the state can devote more people to review each proposed project, he said it was in a position to green-light projects quicker.
Mark Zappi, the executive director of the Energy Institute of Louisiana at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, lauded CCS technology for its effectiveness and pushed back on criticism.
‘Many of the technologies or the processes that are going to be used have been around since the 1970s, even before. So, the engineering community the energy community has a lot of experience with it,’ Zappi told Fox News Digital in an interview. ‘The pipelines — there are well over 5,000 miles of carbon dioxide pipeline in the United States.’
‘When you get to the far, far right, they don’t believe in global warming. They don’t think any CO2 ought to be taken out. So, they’re not a fan of any of this,’ Zappi continued. ‘When you go to the far, far left, they want to eliminate fossil fuels. In my opinion, the heart of a lot of what you hear about ‘greenwashing’ is they feel that CCS, and it will in many ways, will extend the life of fossil fuels.’
‘The reality, to maintain society, we’re not going to get rid of fossil fuels. It’s not a switch. There’s no magical group that’s holding off on a green technology that’s viable. Most of these green technologies just are too expensive or have some other flaws.’
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.