Climate action groups on Friday said the U.S. Department of Energy’s newly announced $1.2 billion in grants for two carbon capture projects are far from the climate action that scientists and advocates have demanded for years—despite the Biden administration’s claim that the “next-generation technologies” must be used alongside renewable energy sources to draw down carbon emissions.
The department said it will invest $1.2 billion to build the nation’s first commercial plants that will conduct “direct air capture,” in which “giant vacuums… can suck decades of old carbon pollution straight out of the sky,” as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters on Thursday.
The unproven technology has been a key focus of oil and gas lobbyists, who argue that fossil fuel companies can continue their planet-heating extraction activities if plants are built to remove the pollution they cause.
Advocacy group Food & Water Watch noted that one oil company, Occidental, stands to benefit directly from the grants because its wholly owned subsidiary, 1Point5, was selected by the Energy Department as one of the recipients.
“Fossil fuel interests see a clear benefit in promoting direct air capture as a means to preserve the dominance of dirty fossil fuels,” said Jim Walsh, the group’s policy director. “The federal government is handing them hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies, when it should be pursuing policies to end the era of fossil fuels.”
Occidental plans to build one of the plants in Kleberg County, Texas, while nonprofit research firm Battelle will build another in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana—one of the state’s air pollution hotspots, according to New Orleans Public Radio.
“Frontline communities that have borne the brunt of environmental racism and climate change for generations say, ‘Enough!'” said Marion Gee, co-executive director of the national grassroots coalition Climate Justice Alliance. “In an effort to move quickly and carelessly to balance a ‘carbon budget,’ the backyards that he’s talking about building in won’t be [White House Deputy Chief of Staff John] Podesta’s, President [Joe] Biden’s, or their neighbors. It’ll be Black folks, Indigenous communities, and poor BIPOC neighbors—sacrificed, yet again, in the name of protecting corporate interests.”
Critics note that carbon capture is expensive and requires a huge amount of energy to run the “capturing” mechanisms, increasing the very emissions companies aim to remove from the atmosphere.
Former Vice President Al Gore said in a TED Talk last month that turning to carbon capture—as the Biden administration did when it included $3.5 billion to fund a total of four direct air capture plants in the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law—is a “moral hazard” that will give fossil fuel giants “an excuse for not ever stopping oil.”
“That gives them a license to continue producing more and more oil and gas,” he said.
Basav Sen, climate justice policy director at the Institute of Policy Studies, accused the Biden administration of playing “cynical political game of squandering public funds on unproven, expensive, and potentially dangerous schemes such as direct air capture, purportedly to gain credibility for backing climate solutions, while doubling down on expanding fossil fuels.”
The grants were announced days after President Joe Biden angered campaigners by claiming that “practically speaking,” he has already declared a climate emergency, despite his approval earlier this year of a massive oil drilling project in Alaska and his recent proposal to update rules for—but not end—fossil fuel leasing on public lands.
As Common Dreams reported in May, Food & Water Watch recently unveiled an interactive online website titled Carbon Capture Scam to expose the “false narratives” being pushed by the fossil fuel industry and lawmakers to promote a “dangerous distraction from the pressing need to move off oil and gas.”
“Direct air capture is expensive, unproven, and will ultimately make almost no difference in reducing climate pollution,” said Walsh on Friday. “Capturing just a quarter of our annual carbon emissions would require all of the power currently generated in the country.”
“Even if the technology was effective, there are still serious questions about whether there is a safe and effective way to store the captured carbon dioxide,” he added. “A more practical and effective approach would be to invest money in wind and solar energy—which would be far more effective in actually reducing climate pollution.”
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