The EPA is selling out Louisiana for false climate solutions

President Biden promised to cut global warming pollution in half by 2030, and to “net zero” by 2050. His EPA Administrator, Michael Regan, promised to prioritize environmental justice, and to protect overburdened communities like those in Louisiana’s cancer alley.

Today, the EPA is breaking both promises – abandoning the people of Louisiana and Gulf south in general to the fossil fuel industry and their false solutions to climate change.

First, the EPA gave up on a civil rights lawsuit to protect frontline Environmental Justice communities. We are disappointed, because the lawsuit had already uncovered substantial evidence that the fossil fuel industry bought, bribed, captured and controlled local environmental regulators – to the specific, systemic, disadvantage of black, indigenous, and other people of color. But we’re not surprised because after Willow, Alaska LNG, and the Mountain Valley Pipeline this is just the latest example of the Biden Administration, and the EPA in particular, giving up on Environmental Justice at the first sign of a fossil fuel industry lawsuit.

At the literal exact same time, the EPA is rushing through a comment period to turn Louisiana into the carbon dumping ground of the South; And guess who they want to give explicit control of it? That’s right the EPA is considering giving the Fossil Fuel industry and the exactly same Louisiana regulators they were just investigating for civil rights abuses total power over where, whether, and how to approve a new carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) industry that could become a model for the rest of the country. And after receiving nearly unanimous local opposition to the plan, they’ve only given the rest of us until July 3 to send a comment.

Enough – tell the EPA and President Biden that giving up on Environmental Justice is not a climate solution. They need to do better, starting with rejecting the dangerous, dirty, and unnecessary plan to give Louisiana local control over carbon capture and storage projects.

There’s a lot going on here, so let’s break it down:

The EPA is considering a risky, untested, and locally-unpopular plan to let the state of Louisiana take over and sub-contract all rules and regulations related to the capture and storage of carbon dioxide.

This is an unnecessary and risky move by EPA Administrator Regan, who has promised to prioritize environmental justice, and over-burdened communities like those in Louisiana. And the timing is very suspicious given that the EPA is also planning major new power plant rules that will rely heavily on carbon capture technology to work; And that the rules for Louisiana could be finalized just days after the EPA and Department of Justice dropped a civil rights lawsuit agains the same exact people for polluting the same exact communities where all this new CCS is planned.

Two major factors are at stake in the CCS decision:

  1. First and foremost, local concerns over public health and community safety. CCS technologies like this have never been attempted at a scale this large. But the risks to public health and the environment are real: Co2 can turn local aquifers into a dangerous acid that leaches toxic chemicals into drinking water; the pressure of injected liquids and gas can destabilize soils, cause earthquakes, and may just leak back out into the atmosphere through thousands of unplugged and abandoned wells; And most important, building CCS onto existing and planned fossil fuel facilities will add thousands of miles of pipelines, industrial facilities, and pollution from trucks, cars, and construction – right in the heart of communities hit first and worst by climate and environmental justice impacts.

    Just as bad, the heart of this EPA rule is not to make rules for CCS at all, but to give the authority over health and safety regulations for this new industry to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (LDNR). That’s the local regulator with a proven history of environmental destruction and out-and-out racism that was, until this very week, under investigation by the EPA for civil rights violations. The EPA and Biden Administration’s reasoning for dropping the lawsuit is that they might get sued by the fossil fuel industry. That’s the same reason Biden gave for approving the Willow project in Alaska, and not ending oil and gas leases on public lands like he promises.

    To quote an old, but good, slogan from our friends at the Sunrise Movement: Biden, you coward, FIGHT for us!
  2. The second concern is that this EPA docket is a trial run for CCS across the south, and across the United States. The Biden administration is relying too much on the idea that carbon capture can reduce emissions to “net zero” at fossil fuel facilities. Its at the heart of this EPA rule, and of new power plant rules the EPA is considering to reduce global warming pollution in the electricity sector​.

    While scientists at the U.N. and across the US agree that developing new technology to capture or remove carbon is essential for stopping climate change. But those same scientists make it clear that carbon capture and other so-called “abatement” strategies have to come later in the process, only after we’ve dramatically reduced emissions. Look it’s actually pretty simple: Good net zero pledges mean you cut all the emissions you possibly can – at least 90% – with proven strategies like efficiency, clean energy, and batteries. Bad net zero pledges are everywhere, but especially in the fossil fuel industry they tend to bet everything on the idea that you can build new fossil fuel infrastructure and that somebody will figure out CCS later, and eliminate all the emissions.

    Just last month, UN scientists warned that CCS and other abatement strategies are unproven and “pose unknown environmental and social risks.” And just a week or two ago UN Secretary António Guterres warned “We are hurtling towards disaster, eyes wide open — with far too many willing to bet it all on wishful thinking, unproven technologies and silver bullet solutions.”

    And yet here’s the Biden administration, again, eyes closed, planning to charge full speed ahead and bet it all on CCS. The EPA’s proposed rule assumes Louisiana, of all places, can figure out carbon capture on new, fracked gas facilities. A bunch of the projects they want sole jurisdiction over don’t even make electricity or power- they make plastics or other petrochemicals.

This whole EPA plan and docket isn’t just a mistake, it’s an insult. And it’s time to demand they do better. But with only a few days and a US Holiday weekend to organize, we’re scrambling to get all the comments in on time.

Click here to submit a comment and it will be automatically emailed to the Biden Administration and the EPA staff in charge of this docket. I’ll also collect all the comments and deliver them in bulk on July 3, to make sure they’re recorded in the public record.