Greenwashing, is that what carbon capture is?

For decades, fossil fuel companies have done all they could to make their businesses seem environmentally friendly. British Petroleum, the multinational corporation that once desecrated the Gulf of Mexico, launched a PR campaign to convince the public its initials actually stood for “beyond petroleum.” Far more important and more devious was the discovery that Exxon had for half a century buried its knowledge about the links between burning fossil fuels and the warming climate, costing humanity decades of precious time to correct our course. In recent years, attempts like these and countless others have earned the name “greenwashing.” The term broadly applies to any time a company tries to better its image as a climate-conscious business. Think of it this way: When you see an ad about a fossil fuel company spending a few million dollars on solar or experimenting with biofuels — while saying nothing about how they’re also expanding their oil and gas operations — that’s greenwashing. Now, fossil fuel companies are touting a new technology, carbon capture and sequestration, as a method to take greenhouse gas emissions and trap them underground. To hear industry officials describe it, this will be the technology that will save the world by hiding away emissions that would otherwise accumulate in the atmosphere and further warm the planet. Despite their promises and proclamations, we have no evidence that this is anything other than the next frontier in greenwashing by the fossil fuel industry.

Carbon capture has not been proven and we will see in a big way with all the emphasis on it.

Carbon capture and sequestration, or storage, is not a proven technology. Yet the industry’s lobbyists have already been able to convince the federal government to underwrite its implementation at taxpayer expense. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 uses, among other mechanisms, tax credits to induce the owners of CO2-emitting industrial facilities to capture and store the carbon they emit. According to the Clean Air Task Force, the act also expands the pool of eligible facilities by lowering the threshold for the amount of CO2 a facility may emit. No one can argue in good faith that existing factories, power plants and other large greenhouse gas-emitting facilities should not be incentivized to stop their emissions from entering the atmosphere. For as long as any emitting facility remains in operation, its owners should be responsible for mitigating and remediating its negative effects on the environment to the greatest extent that technology will allow. That’s not how the fossil fuel industry plans to use carbon capture. Across the South, and especially in my home state of Louisiana, oil and gas companies are using the false promise of carbon capture to justify the expansion of yet even more fossil fuel infrastructure. Their thinking goes as follows: They already have plans in the works for new refineries and gas export terminals, all of which require approval from government regulators. If they promise to integrate carbon capture systems into their plans, whatever that would look like, then they can claim the environmental and climate impact of their proposed facilities will be far less than it would otherwise be. Then, thanks to the Inflation Reduction Act, they can receive tax credits and other financial incentives intended for carbon capture and storage for their new oil and gas facilities.

We already are over the carbon dioxide limits now.

Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is already at 50% above pre-industrial levels. To prevent the worst impacts of climate change, we need to act urgently to draw down excess carbon, and just as importantly, to stop emitting greenhouse gasses. What we don’t need to do is give polluters a pass to continue emitting, just so long as they promise to try to capture some of their emissions before they escape into the atmosphere. It’s past time to move our global economy toward true renewable energy and stop finding ways to justify more fossil fuels.

This legislature will do nothing to stop our descent.

Carbon capture, a license to pollute