The result, according to both environmental officials and carbon sequestration experts, is that many projects are likely to face serious delays while waiting for safety assessments or—worse—to be scrutinized with less than thorough scrutiny.
The EPA did not respond to questions about the safety of carbon storage and the size of the agency’s carbon monitoring program.
Some climate activists — who have long claimed that carbon capture is just a way to perpetuate the fossil fuel economy — say the lack of regulation is a sign of hasty decisions. It could put low-income residents and communities of color at risk, they say, despite pledges by the Biden administration to address historical disparities in how environmental burdens are distributed.
For the most part, the leadership in both parties is aligned around trying to spread as much [carbon capture] as possible, despite the potential impacts of environmental sanitation, and despite significant concerns about technology and accountability, safety and security concerns,” said Tyson Slocum, energy program director at the progressive consumer advocacy group Public Citizen.
Even the government officials who are trying to bring these projects to fruition are a little unsure how that could happen since there are no bodies behind the relevant offices.
“It’s challenging because this happened in a way that we were completely unprepared in a federal policy perspective,” said Shochi Talati, who until last April was chief of staff in the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, dealing with billions of dollars in carbon sequestration grants and subsidies. “I hesitate to call it a bottleneck. It will just take a while.”
said Samantha Gross, who was director of international climate and clean energy in the Department of Energy’s Bureau of International Affairs during the Obama administration.
“There are some risks associated with investing, but I think it’s one that’s totally worth taking,” said Gross, who now directs the Energy and Climate Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution. “You want to take risks — that’s the whole point. It’s a technology we need.”
The money approved by Congress is staggering. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act funded $6.5 billion for technology to capture carbon, pull it out of the air or store it underground, another $3.5 billion for demonstration projects to capture carbon and $2.1 billion to build pipelines to transport carbon dioxide. All of that would go to an industry that research firm Allied Market Research estimates has just $2.1 billion in global market capitalization.
These are just direct subsidies. Just as importantly, the Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act boosted a major tax credit that expanded carbon sequestration in many sectors, including cement and steel.
The technology is advertised as being able to clean carbon dioxide and other pollutants from industrial processes before they can reach the atmosphere and trap heat that is warming the Earth.
Carbon capture may be the only real way to reduce emissions in heavy industry sites, where switching to renewable energy is not yet an option. But while the underlying technology has been in use for years, it has yet to take off on a large scale. Only 13 commercial carbon capture sites are in operation in the United States, said Jesse Stolarek, executive director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, a group of oil, gas, technology, environment and policy groups that support the technology.
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