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Climate and Environment

Activists Call For Rejection Of Controversial Climate Tech In California

A oil drilling rig looms as smoke from a flare burns in the background of a residential street.
An oil drilling rig in a residential neighborhood in Wilmington.
(Courtesy of Ashley Hernandez
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Environmental advocates want California lawmakers to reject a bill being considered on the last day of the current legislative session that would expand the use of a controversial technology known as carbon capture.

Senate Bill 905 would establish regulations for carbon capture and storage projects across the state and expedite permitting processes to get those projects going.

The idea is to capture carbon dioxide at the source: at oil refineries, power plants, and other industries in cities like L.A., then build pipelines to inject it deep underground, likely in the Central Valley. The goal is to capture carbon before it gets into the atmosphere, heating up the planet further.

Supporters, including the Newsom administration and fossil fuel industry experts, say the state needs the technology to achieve its climate goals and that carbon capture can help bridge the transition to cleaner energy as the state phases out fossil fuel energy sources and gas-powered cars.

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But opponents say it's just another lifeline for the fossil fuel industry, and could add yet another hazard to Central Valley communities already overburdened by pollution. Officials, and a 2020 study out of Stanford, say the region is the state’s best spot for carbon storage.

“It's unfortunate that here we are once again, communities who are bearing the brunt of the fossil fuel industry are asked to bear the brunt of climate policy,” said Martha Dina Argüello at a press conference hosted by opponents on Tuesday. Argüello is the executive director for the L.A. chapter of non-profit Physicians for Social Responsibility and co-chair of the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, appointed by the California Air Resources Board.

Carbon capture is already happening in the U.S. The oil industry primarily captures carbon dioxide to inject into drilling wells to help extract more oil. It's a reason why Argüello and other environmental justice advocates worry it could lock in decades more of fossil fuel extraction.

Another bill that is headed to the governor’s desk, SB 1314, bans this practice. Still, opponents say even with a ban, investing in the expensive and largely untested technology will only further hinder progress towards cleaner long-term solutions.

“Even without enhanced oil recovery, carbon capture threatens to prolong the life of fossil fuel infrastructure and increase production,” said Mark Schlosberg, Food & Water Watch Acting California Director. “Rather than pushing policies that will prolong fossil fuels, we need to deploy all available resources to transition to 100% renewable energy.”

More than a century of burning fossil fuels to power our homes, cars and industries is the main cause of the climate crisis today.

“In the moment that our climate policy should be based on preventing further exposure and further releases, we have come up with a technology that allows you to monetize it,” Argüello said. “And that's why we're here, because someone is going to make money off of this.”

Argüello said she also worries leaky pipelines could still release carbon into the atmosphere, and questioned how well carbon storage works given it's such a new technology. She said such unknowns could result in consequences for both public health and the planet for generations to come.

Instead, Argüello said doubling down on improving public transportation and restoring landscapes that naturally pull carbon from the atmosphere are better investments for long-term solutions. That’s in line with the latest global report by 230 of the world’s top scientists.

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According to the report, the lowest-cost pathways to preventing catastrophic global heating don’t involve carbon capture, but rather, among other things, a swifter transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy (such as wind and solar), bigger investments in nature-based solutions, and electrifying cities and transportation systems.

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