A chimney from the Linden Cogeneration Plant is seen in Linden, New Jersey.

A chimney from the Linden Cogeneration Plant is seen in Linden, New Jersey on April 22, 2022.

(Photo: Kena Betancur/VIEWpress)

Biden Power Plant Rule Relies on 'Industry Propaganda Scheme' of Carbon Capture: Critics

"Billions of dollars have been wasted trying to prove that this technology is real—and all we have to show for it are a series of spectacular failures," said one campaigner.

The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled a power plant emissions rule whose effectiveness at slashing planet-warming pollution would heavily depend on a major expansion of carbon capture, an oil industry-backed technological scheme that climate advocates view as wasteful, ineffective, and actively harmful.

The Environmental Protection Agency's newly proposed emission standards for coal- and gas-fired power plants were described as the most strict ever proposed in the U.S., and the rule garnered praise from major environmental groups.

If implemented—far from a sure thing given the Supreme Court's recent decision hamstringing the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gas pollution—the rule would require most new and existing fossil fuel power plants to capture 90% of their emissions by between 2035 and 2040. Coal- and gas-fired power plants are the nation's second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

"The draft rules offer utilities years of lead time to build out carbon capture or hydrogen infrastructure—or to take their plants offline," E&E Newsreported.

Climate campaigners expressed dismay that the EPA rule relies so significantly on the large-scale adoption of unproven carbon capture and storage technology, which would entail the construction of thousands of miles of new pipelines to carry the trapped emissions.

"Carbon capture is nothing more than a fossil fuel industry propaganda scheme," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch (FWW), an environmental group that has described the technology as a "dangerous fantasy."

"Billions of dollars have been wasted trying to prove that this technology is real—and all we have to show for it are a series of spectacular failures. Throwing good money after bad is not a climate solution—it's an industry bailout," Hauter argued. "Even if the technology managed to meet even the lowest thresholds for emissions capture, the energy required to power the facilities would negate much of the supposed benefit."

Last year, President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats approved large subsidies for the carbon capture industry via the Inflation Reduction Act, a law that proponents said would slash U.S. carbon emissions by 40% by the end of the decade.

But critics at the time cast doubt on that projection given that it hinges on the effectiveness of largely unproven carbon capture initiatives—and similar questions will likely be raised about EPA estimates of the power plant rule's potential impact. The EPA said the rule "would avoid up to 617 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide (CO2) through 2042."

Ozawa Bineshi Albert, co-executive director of the Climate Justice Alliance, said that "if we are to combat climate change we must do so with real, viable solutions—not unproven technologies that only promise to continue the legacy of dumping pollutants onto frontline communities."

"Let's be clear: Carbon capture and sequestration technologies are harmful and unproven," Albert added. "They do not operate at scale, and to expand carbon capture to a fraction of what is envisioned by this order would require constructing thousands of miles of polluting pipelines into communities already most impacted by the burning of fossil fuels. A study in the European Union showed that adding carbon capture to power plants increased nitrogen oxides by 44%, particulate matter by 33%, and ammonia by a whopping 30-fold increase. CCS projects will exacerbate environmental disparities and lead to more environmental racism. This is a distraction—one that will let fossil fuel extraction continue unchecked."

"There is no technological quick fix for our climate crisis. We must cut fossil fuels off at their source and transition to clean, renewable energy now."

In a recent report, FWW analyzed major carbon capture projects and found that the technology's "track record makes it appear to be a handout to fossil fuel corporations, publicly financing their attempts to keep their harmful product viable."

Despite such findings, the EPA determined in its new rule proposal that "carbon capture represents a 'best system of emissions reduction,' which means it's been adequately proven," Politico noted Thursday.

"In the U.S., only one power plant has ever captured carbon dioxide at scale: the W.A. Parish Generating Station near Houston," the outlet observed. "The carbon capture technology at Petra Nova, bolstered by nearly $200 million in federal money, grabbed coal-produced CO2 and piped it to an oil field to be used for crude oil production."

In a statement, EPA Administrator Michael Regan ignored concerns about the efficacy of carbon capture, declaring that the new rule would harness "proven, readily available technologies to limit carbon pollution and seizes the momentum already underway in the power sector to move toward a cleaner future."

The EPA rule will undergo a 60-day public comment period after it is formally published in the Federal Register.

Instead of resting its climate agenda on dubious carbon capture schemes, Hauter said the Biden administration should be prioritizing "immediate actions to limit the supply of dirty fossil fuels" and expand renewable energy, which research has shown to be a much better climate investment than carbon capture.

"This requires using existing federal authority to halt new drilling and fracking, and stop new fossil fuel infrastructure like power plants, pipelines, and export terminals," Hauter continued. "There is no technological quick fix for our climate crisis. We must cut fossil fuels off at their source and transition to clean, renewable energy now."

Jason Rylander, legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said it is "no surprise" that the EPA's proposed standards "fall far short of what the climate emergency demands given the right-wing Supreme Court's restrictions on power plant rules."

"The EPA needs to get serious about cutting carbon emissions by creating a national science-based cap on greenhouse gas pollution through the National Ambient Air Quality Standards program," said Rylander. "That's the best way to spur the economy-wide decarbonization we need now."

Other environmental groups were less critical of the Biden administration's proposal as a whole, welcoming it as a meaningful step in the right direction while acknowledging that more ambition is needed to fend off the worst of the climate emergency.

"We're pleased to see the Biden Administration continue to address climate pollution in a serious way. Now, the administration must finish the job and ensure the final standards are as strong as possible," said Ben Jealous, executive director of the Sierra Club. "But we know the work to confront the climate crisis doesn’t stop at strong carbon pollution standards. The continued use or expansion of fossil power plants is incompatible with a livable future. Simply put, we must not merely limit the use of fossil fuel electricity: we must end it entirely."

Julie McNamara, the deputy policy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, called the release of the power plant rule "a pivotal turning point, with Administrator Regan rightfully and necessarily moving to hold coal- and gas-fired power plants to account for their ongoing carbon pollution."

But McNamara also implored the administration to "prioritize robust environmental justice protections and environmental and public health safeguards, especially when it comes to carbon capture and sequestration and hydrogen co-firing."

"The agency must protect against greenwashing attempts by fossil fuel interests that would worsen, not lessen, environmental injustices," McNamara said.

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