100+ Groups Urge Congress to Abandon 'Carbon Utilization Fantasy'
"Promoting the utilization of captured CO2 in petrochemicals, plastics, and fuels, as your legislation would encourage, will perpetuate environmental justice harms and subsidize the oil and gas industry to do it."
More than 100 organizations on Monday urged the congressional sponsors of a new proposal that would boost the tax credit for certain carbon capture projects to shift their focus to solutions that will actually address the fossil fuel-driven climate emergency.
The groups—including 350.org, Beyond Plastics, Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch, Indigenous Environmental Network, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition (MEJC) Action!, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Science and Environmental Health Network (SEHN), and Waterspirit—oppose the Captured Carbon Utilization Parity Act (S. 542/H.R. 1262).
Introduced last week by Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Reps. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), the legislation would increase the 45Q tax credit for carbon capture and utilization (CCU) "to match the incentives for carbon capture and storage (CCS) for both direct air capture (DAC) and the power and industrial sectors."
The groups sent a letter to the four sponsors arguing that:
This bill does not advance climate solutions, but is rather a giveaway to fossil fuel companies and other corporate polluters under the guise of climate action. Promoting the utilization of captured CO2 in petrochemicals, plastics, and fuels, as your legislation would encourage, will perpetuate environmental justice harms and subsidize the oil and gas industry to do it. Rather than perpetuating these climate scams, we encourage you to support the elimination of subsidies for the fossil fuel industry instead of enriching them through carbon capture schemes.
In addition to stressing that such projects consume a lot of water while producing emissions and chemical waste—further endangering frontline communities that are disproportuantely home to people of color and low-income individuals—the organizations pointed out that "carbon capture has a long history of overpromising and under-delivering."
"The overwhelming majority of captured carbon to date has been used to increase oil production via enhanced oil recovery (EOR)," the letter highlights. "The myth of a massive carbon management paradigm that uses and re-uses carbon dioxide on any large scale serves only to greenwash the reality of how carbon dioxide is used: for oil production."
"As laid bare in an investigation from the U.S. Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, the 45Q tax credit is rife with abuse as credits are improperly claimed," the letter further notes. "Moreover, documents uncovered by the House Oversight Committee's investigation into major oil companies and climate disinformation revealed that the biggest proponents of CCS also understand the technology to be costly, ineffective, and requiring continued and increasing government subsidization."
"The myth of a massive carbon management paradigm that uses and re-uses carbon dioxide on any large scale serves only to greenwash the reality of how carbon dioxide is used: for oil production."
Citing a report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the organizations also explained that "in contrast to things like solar power and batteries, carbon capture is not the kind of technology that gets significantly cheaper over time, and increasing public subsidies to spark a carbon management industry will not result in a self-sustaining system."
According to dozens of groups representing communities across the country, "The carbon utilization fantasy should be abandoned, with focus restored on the solutions we know will help combat the climate crisis, like renewable energy and storage, electrification, energy efficiency, real zero-waste materials systems, agroecology, and more."
SEHN executive director Carolyn Raffensperger told Common Dreams that her group is supporting the letter "because carbon capture use and sequestration (CCUS) is the fossil fuel industry's diabolical plan to line its investors' pockets with public money" and "the antithesis of a climate solution in that it delays real, tried and true solutions."
"Further, the entire 45Q tax credit program turns sound environmental policy on its head: Instead of requiring the polluter to pay for its damage, 45Q tax credits pay the polluter to pollute," Raffensperger added. Pointing to proposed CO2 pipelines in Iowa, she said:
Keenly aware of the climate crisis, we investigated the claims that industry was making that we could address climate by putting a big machine on top of various polluting facilities and transporting the CO2 across the countryside and burying it deep underground. What we discovered was that the entire enterprise would require more energy than the original facility required. It will disrupt farm land and pose grave risks in case of a pipeline rupture. Even worse, we found that this vast complex system of carbon capture, transportation, and either use or disposal is horribly under-regulated by [the Environmental Protection Agency], the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the [Internal Revenue Service], and others. The frosting on this toxic cake is that the public pays the fossil fuel industry with public money and the public gets no climate benefit. If anything, CCUS makes climate change worse.
"Heed the lessons of the recent train derailment and pipeline disasters. That is, fix the regulatory mess before pouring money into 45Q tax credits," she urged U.S. lawmakers. "The tax credits are like shoveling coal into the boiler of a runaway train."
MEJC Action! backed the letter "because of the dangers CCUS presents to environmental justice communities in Michigan," Juan Jhong-Chung, the group's climate justice director, told Common Dreams. "Our communities are already overburdened by polluted air and water because of fossil fuel power plants and other toxic industrial infrastructure. We do not want government subsidies going to technologies that will perpetuate harms and impact the health of our families."
"Most projects where CCUS can be deployed are Black, Brown, and poor communities," the campaigner added. "We don't need more respiratory issues, we deserve clean pollution-free renewable energy."
As Rachel Dawn Davis, public policy and justice organizer at Waterspirit, said Monday in an email to Common Dreams, independent science has already shown that investments in carbon capture "would be a waste of money and time," and "we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction; we have no time to continue wasting."
"If we are to provide a livable future for current and future generations of young people and all creation, we must invest solely in renewable energy, not furthering fossil fuel fallacies," she emphasized. "Subsidies going to the most heinous polluters are only continuing through this legislation; congressional representatives must know better by now."
This post has been updated with comment from MEJC Action!.