(Bloomberg) — Roishetta Ozane knows a thing or two about pollution.
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Twelve petrochemical facilities surround the home of the 38-year-old single black mother in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana, often flaring off harmful chemicals. Another facility is planned nearby that worries Ozane. But unlike the petrochemical plants, the new plant is supposed to help fight climate change — and the Biden administration is backing it as part of a $1.2 billion investment.
“Everyone was against any new project coming here,” said Ozane. “We don’t want to be test dummies to see if it works.”
Despite pleas from her and others, the Biden administration announced last week that Calcasieu Parish will be one of the first US locations to become a so-called direct air capture (DAC) hub. There, companies and researchers, brought together by the Battelle Memorial Institute, will test technology to extract carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it underground.
The local opposition on the grounds of environmental justice highlights the challenges ahead for the technology researchers say is needed to avert the worst impacts of climate change. It also represents a political problem for US President Joe Biden, who pledged during his campaign and as president to fight for marginalized low-income and minority communities.
Scientists have found that by mid-century, the world will likely need to remove billions of tons of CO2 from the air each year to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s not that Ozane isn’t concerned with climate change; her home has been damaged by storms including hurricanes Laura and Delta both of which hit in 2020.
But she said she’s skeptical the emerging DAC technology — which currently removes several thousand tons a year — will work as advertised. And she’s also concerned about a pipeline to transport CO2 to storage sites that would cross a path less than two miles from her backyard, concerns that are echoed in other parts of the country as well.
She and others voiced their opposition during a tour with Energy Department officials and later at a community meeting with about 50 local residents in Calcasieu Parish, where about one in five lives below the poverty line.
“They said they had a mandate from Congress to get this rolled out,” said Elida Castillo, characterizing what Energy Department officials, including Shalanda Baker, the agency’s director of economic impact and diversity, told her and other members of the community at a meeting. after the prices were announced.
Read more: The growing number of CO2 pipelines are facing strong opposition in the Midwest
Castillo, who is program director for the Latino grassroots organization that hosts the Chispa Texas program, said she, like Ozane, is concerned that another DAC hub that will be operated by a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Corp. will not reduce CO2. receive as intended. She also said she didn’t have enough details about the project and the proposed community benefit program.
“They knew that community groups are very concerned about all projects of this nature,” says Castillo, who lives about 20 miles north of Corpus Christi, Texas. “We should invest more in renewable energy.”
The Energy Department said its reviewers looked at the technical merits, plans to mitigate negative impacts and social benefits when selecting projects. The agency said it requires “meaningful engagement with host communities and affected workers” as part of a mandatory community benefits plan for the DAC hubs.
“DOE recognizes the real concerns regarding the history of harm already inflicted on underserved communities and works to ensure that these selected projects deliver meaningful economic and public health benefits to already overstressed communities, prevent harm and align with the vision of the president of a just clean society. energy future,” the department said in a statement.
In a statement, Battelle said it is committed to “ongoing two-way communication” with locals in the region and plans to “engage all stakeholders” as the project develops.
Removing carbon is a critical part of Biden’s goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. The government estimates that the US will need to remove, capture and store as much as 1.8 billion tons of CO2 annually to meet its goal. It considers the DAC hubs, funded using a portion of some $3.5 billion earmarked for them in the bipartisan infrastructure bill, as the first of a national network of carbon removal projects. The government aims for each hub to remove 1 million tons of carbon per year by the end of this decade.
“These hubs are going to help us prove the potential of this breakthrough technology so others can follow in their footsteps,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters announcing the funding. “This is Bidenomics in action, making smart investments in our industries, making smart investments in our workers and our communities to build America’s clean energy economy from the center-up and bottom-up.”
The Department of Energy and the award winners have pledged to adhere to the government’s Justice40 initiative to ensure that the benefits of the projects reach the communities in which they are located. This means, among other things, that it is estimated that thousands of jobs will be created as the hubs are expanded.
But the technology is drawing opposition from the environmental justice community, which says the DAC hubs go against Biden’s pledge to improve and prioritize the lives of marginalized communities hardest hit by toxic pollution and climate change. They see the hubs as another example of the government’s rhetoric not matching its actions.
One of the community’s concerns is that billions are being spent on technology that they say is unproven, both technologically and economically, but whose promise could allow the oil and gas industry to continue its normal operations. DAC would also do nothing to clean up particulate matter, benzene and other health-damaging emissions associated with oil, gas and petrochemical production.
“It is the fossil fuel industry introducing a new counterfeit solution that has not yet been proven to work,” said Yvette Arellano, executive director of Houston-based environmental justice group Fenceline Watch.
The funding for the Texas and Louisiana projects “represents again the sacrifice of our Gulf Coast communities for the benefit of the oil, gas and petrochemical industries,” Fenceline Watch added in a statement.
Further mistrust was sown in the fact that the funding went to Occidental Petroleum, which has indicated that DAC could be a means to continue producing oil. The company has invested billions in the technology, including the $1.1 billion purchase of Canadian startup Carbon Engineering Ltd. just days after securing funding from the Energy Department.
“We believe our direct capture technology will be the technology that will help sustain our industry over time,” Vicki Hollub, CEO of the company, said at an oil and gas conference earlier this year. “This gives our industry a license to continue operating for the 60, 70, 80 years that I think will be sorely needed.”
In a statement to Bloomberg, Hollub said subsidiary 1PointFive’s project has a community benefits plan and would invest in local communities, including workforce development opportunities, educational initiatives and community involvement.
The opposition of local residents and the wider environmental justice community poses a major challenge to the Biden administration and proponents of the new technology. The stakes are high; a failure would make the road to quickly scaling DAC much more difficult. If the big hubs don’t find innovative ways to engage with the public or otherwise stumble, the results could hurt the industry’s long-term prospects — potentially leading to more climate damage.
The need to build trust with communities where DAC technology is deployed and the need to quickly test and scale that technology are somewhat opposed. That means all eyes in the industry will be on Louisiana and Texas for years to come.
“I think one of the tricky things about community involvement, involvement in environmental justice, is that there will be a lot of different feelings and there will be communities that want these projects and others that don’t,” says Giana Amador. , executive director of the Carbon Removal Alliance, which represents companies such as Climeworks AG and Heirloom Carbon Technologies Inc., who are partners in the Louisiana project.
–With help from Michelle Ma and Kevin Crowley.
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