By David Beard
March 16, 2023 - While the Biden administration has openly expressed support for curbing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon capture and sequestration projects, many believe Biden’s EPA is dragging its feet in enabling that to happen.
On Tuesday, the West Virginia Manufacturers Association joined with seven other business and industry groups from five states to urge the EPA to get the ball rolling.
Carbon emissions are captured and stored in Class VI underground injection (UIC) wells, which requires an EPA permit. But states can apply for and receive primary enforcement authority, often called primacy, to implementing EPA approved UIC programs.
The eight groups said in their letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, “Our members are collectively pursuing billions of dollars in new investments in Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), which will provide secure, good paying jobs and generate new revenue streams for communities across the country. CCS investments also represent a significant opportunity to expand U.S. leadership in climate technology, and are a critical part of realizing the goals of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
“However,” they wrote, “our members are increasingly concerned about uncertain permitting timelines for Class VI injection wells and the lengthy process for states to secure primacy. We join the growing, bipartisan chorus of stakeholders and policymakers who are calling attention to this lack of movement that is obstructing needed investments in CCS.”
They note that to date, only two states have been granted primacy over Class VI injection wells: North Dakota and Wyoming. And those were granted under the Trump administration. They cite an EPA letter confirming the current commitment to move forward. “But the administration’s actions are not matching its words.”
Four states – including West Virginia – have pending primacy applications with at least eight more expressing interest in applying, they wrote. More than 30 proposed Class VI permits remain under review by EPA, some of which have been in the queue for years.
And while the IRA has $50 million dedicated to assist states in the primacy process, they wrote, no permits have been granted since the bill’s passage.
“Without immediate improvement, the current Class VI permitting timeline will continue to serve as a barrier to meeting emission reduction goals – including the ones the Biden Administration has set – while discouraging much-needed infrastructure investments across the country.”
States best understand their own needs and can enforce environmental standards – often more stringently that the EPA, they wrote. “Granting states primacy to approve Class VI injection wells would expedite and streamline the permitting process, so that the United States does not fall behind on this technology that is critical to major emissions reductions across multiple sectors.”
Regan stated EPA’s position in a December 2022 letter to state governors. “Well designed and deployed CCS projects can deliver environmental and climate benefits, create good-paying jobs and address cumulative pollution impacts in historically disadvantaged and overburdened communities. … The Biden-Harris administration is committed to supporting states’ efforts to obtain Class VI primacy.”
But, he continued, “During my travels across the country, community residents have shared their concerns about the safety of CCS and CDR [carbon dioxide removal] projects and worry that their communities may bear a disproportionate environmental burden associated with geologic sequestration.”
As the eight groups said in their letter, they aren’t alone in their frustration.
U.S. Senate Energy Committee chair Joe Manchin discussed the delays during a hearing involving the Department of Energy. He told DOE Deputy Secretary Dave Turk that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act set aside $12 billion for CCS commercialization projects.
“This Administration continues to wage war on coal,” Manchin said. “They can say what they want to, but I’m from coal country so I know what’s happening.” He mentioned the 30 pending” well project applications. “What’s that going to do to meet the timetables that we have?”
Turk responded, “What we’re trying to do at DOE is work with EPA, I’ve had several conversations with my counterpart, Deputy Secretary McCabe, and we’re engaged right now with them on technical problems. We understand the urgency, we’re trying to work with our interagency colleagues and doing everything we can from our end.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, discussed primacy during a meeting. She said, “Practically speaking, a heavy hand will stifle this nascent technology in the crib and prevent the emissions reductions we have already see are possible when the American economic engine is brought to bear on a problem, even one as big as climate change.”
In January, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards wrote to EPA’s Regan on the issue. Louisiana, an oil and gas state, has also applied for primacy, with no EPA response. He said CCS is not the only tool to combat climate change, but is one of the most mature and near-market-ready options. Industry is interested. “But a recurring question is if and when Louisiana will receive primacy.” A timeline would encourage investment decisions.
Commenting on the governor’s letter, the eight groups wrote, “We agree. Certainty and predictability are key factors businesses and producers need to make definitive investments in CCS technology, and that starts with a reasonable timeline for primacy and permitting decisions.”
The groups also cite the support of former Obama administration DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, now president and CEO of the environmental firm Energy Futures Initiative. EFI released a report outlining recommendations to enable further commercialization of CCS. The report said EPA “should delegate permitting authority to states. … Improved market, permitting, and regulatory policies [including primacy] are needed to attract billions of dollars of private sector financial capital and widen the application of CCS to key industries.”
The group concludes their letter: “We appreciate the Biden-Harris Administration’s public declarations and funding commitments to support the growing CCS industry. Now, it is time to put those words into action, beginning with the expeditious approval of state primacy applications for Class VI injection wells.”
The other signatories are the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the Chemical Industry Council of Illinois, the Pennsylvania Chemical Industry Council, the Texas Economic Development Council and the Greater Houston Partnership.