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CEQ’s new guidance makes the correct connections between climate change, community concerns, and carbon capture

February 18, 2022 Work Area: Carbon Capture

This week, the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) released new guidance for the scale up of a full-fledged and critically needed carbon management industry, inclusive of both point source, direct air capture (DAC), and associated carbon dioxide transport and storage. This is a great indication from the White House that it’s prepared to do the work of enabling a carbon management sector that considers not only emissions reductions, but also impacts on communities, workers, and local economies.  

Building on its June 2021 Report, CEQ’s guidance affirms that carbon management technologies are effective and ready for deployment, as well as required to help the U.S. meet its net-zero emissions targets outlined in the Nationally Determined Contribution. Beyond the direct emissions-reduction benefit, the guidance also outlines the benefits of carbon management technologies to communities, workers, and local economy.  

It states, “CCUS (carbon capture, utilization, and sequestration) deployment can and should reduce emissions of other kinds of pollution in addition to carbon pollution, protect communities from increases in cumulative pollution, and maintain and create good, union-friendly jobs across the country.”  

The rest of the report is spent detailing how to reach this goal in an efficient, orderly, and responsible manner. The following broad themes that appear throughout the guidance:  

  • The need for community engagement, community engagement, and more community engagement early, often, and always at every step of the development and deployment process. In every nook and cranny of the report, a form of the following sentence is used: “Responsible CCUS projects should engage communities and Tribes in co-development of projects and approaches; protect communities from pollution; and incorporate environmental justice and equity considerations, especially in communities that are already exposed to multiple pollution sources.” It will be especially critical to provide “information about the impacts, costs and benefits of CCUS in advance of Tribal consultation and stakeholder engagement.” 
  • The need for streamlining and intra as well as inter-agency coordination on all aspects of CCUS development and deployment. CEQ’s recommendations for the development of programmatic environmental impact statements (PEISs) as well as inter-agency CCUS project recommended performance schedules and coordination of underground storage permitting and siting, monitoring and verification on federal lands and other lands is vital for to realize the ‘efficient’ and ‘orderly’ deployment of carbon management technologies. In addition, the report recommends DOE, EPA, DOT, and the National Science Foundation work together on the front-end RDD&D side of CCUS development as well.  
  • The need for transparency in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reporting. CEQ rightly recognizes that a key component of ‘responsibly’ developing carbon management technologies is building public trust. This involves enhanced reporting under the GHG Reporting Program and a National inter-agency coordination for underground storage monitoring, reporting and verification. Moreover, transparency also extends to life-cycle analyses for DAC as well as the establishment of standards or certification for carbon utilization products.  
  • The need for development of safety protocols and worst-case scenarios. Safety monitoring, updated regulations, protocols for enforcement and financial risk are all vitally responsible elements for developing carbon capture technology well.  
  • The need for understanding all the environmental impacts of carbon management tech. This includes an assessment of the complete environmental footprint of carbon capture equipment: how it affects air quality, underground storage, etc.   

CEQ’s guidance underscores that the current administration understands how critical it is to get carbon management technologies deployed and deployed right, i.e., efficiently, orderly, and responsibly. Their commitment to ensuring positive community impacts is necessary and laudable, as is their adherence to the pathway laid out by the world’s foremost climate modelers — who unanimously affirm the need for carbon management at scale to ward off the worst impacts of climate change. In summary, the agencies of the Executive branch would do well to follow the guidance laid out for them by CEQ to advance carbon management. 

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