Hi all – some good news on the federal level. The White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council (WHEJAC) issued its first report this week. An article about it is below.
In the report, WHEJAC tells the Biden administration what types of projects benefit environmental justice communities, and what types of projects do not. The article focuses on their opposition to carbon capture and sequestration and production of hydrogen from fossil fuels. But it also notes that WHEJAC included nuclear power on the list of projects that do not benefit communities (see pages 57-59). The report also includes radioactive waste dumps on the list, as well.
Here is what the article says:
…Other energy projects that would not qualify as beneficial, it said, were nuclear power procurements; cap-and-trade programs; highway expansions; incentives to investor-owned utilities; and pipeline creation, expansion or maintenance….
The report also links to a joint declaration of the Anishinabek Nation and the Iroquois Caucus on transport and dumping of radioactive waste. (page 59)
The White House did not respond to the report, but this is a very good sign that there is a push against nuclear power, Yucca, and CIS from an influential body the White House needs to validate its racial justice impacts.
White House panel rebuts Biden on CCS, hydrogen
A group of environmental justice advisers convened by President Biden is at odds with some of the administration’s climate plans, saying carbon capture and removal projects would not benefit disadvantaged communities.
In a report issued last week, members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council called for omitting 14 types of energy projects from Biden’s pledge to deliver 40% of clean energy “benefits” to environmental justice communities. The list included carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCS), as well as direct air capture, which captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; research and development projects; large-scale bioenergy; and anything that would extend the lifetime of fossil fuel infrastructure.
Such projects were examples “of the types of projects that will not benefit a community,” according to the report.
The conclusion appeared to undercut parts of Biden’s climate proposals that embrace CCS along with low-carbon hydrogen technology. The president’s $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan would fund 10 “pioneer” CCS demonstrations and $15 billion worth of hydrogen pilot projects in distressed areas — potentially including so-called blue hydrogen derived from natural gas and paired with carbon capture systems.
Spokespeople at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, one of the agencies overseeing the 26-member advisory council, did not directly address questions about the discrepancy between the report and Biden’s plans. They pointed to an earlier statement from CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory saying she looked forward to reviewing the report’s recommendations and following through with the president’s commitments “to address long-standing environmental injustices.”
“President Biden and Vice President Harris have made it clear from their first day in office that environmental justice is a top priority, and that the voices of historically disadvantaged communities will be heard in the White House and throughout their administration,” said Mallory.
‘Misguided thinking’ or opportunity?
Formed by Biden in a Jan. 27 executive order, the advisory council is overseen by CEQ, the Office of Management and Budget, and national climate adviser Gina McCarthy.
It’s made up mostly of environmental justice advocates and other activists from outside government and is charged with drawing up recommendations for channeling 40% of the benefits of climate investments to disadvantaged communities. Last week’s report was the first in a series and contained about 100 pages of recommendations (Greenwire, May 14).
The council joins a growing chorus of groups skeptical of CCS. Broadly, they point out that the technology does little to reduce nitrogen oxides emissions — a local pollutant linked to higher asthma rates — and could exacerbate long-standing injustices in energy infrastructure siting.
Basav Sen, co-chair of an energy democracy work group for the Climate Justice Alliance, has slammed the idea of siting CCS and hydrogen projects in distressed areas as “misguided thinking” and “completely pointless” (Energywire, April 5).
Both technologies, however, are favored by gas utilities, fossil fuel companies and some environmental groups as tools to address climate change.
Ugbaad Kosar, deputy director of policy at climate-focused Carbon180, said projects could provide “local high-quality job creation and revenue streams for economically disadvantaged communities as long as these projects also adhere to strong regulatory and safety standards.”
“Many communities may outright oppose direct air capture while others are open to it,” she wrote in an email to E&E News. “Ultimately, that power should be in the hands of the communities themselves without taking options off the table from the outset.”
Brad Crabtree, director of the Carbon Capture Coalition, cited Rhodium Group analyses concluding that both types of projects could produce tens of thousands of local jobs, among other benefits. “Failing to deploy carbon capture and direct air capture economywide is not a solution for environmental justice,” he said. “If left unaddressed, climate change will be the greatest injustice of all.”
Meeting the nation’s climate goals hinges on hydrogen, said Morry Markowitz, president of the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association. He pointed out that the technology can help cut emissions from steel and cement making, long-haul transportation, and other hard-to-decarbonize industries.
“Renewables alone, even at higher rates of deployment, cannot answer all of our energy and climate needs,” he said.
Other backers of CCS and hydrogen emphasized the bipartisan support in Congress for those technologies, calling them an essential plank of bipartisan climate action.
Shannon Angielski, spokesperson for the Clean Hydrogen Future Coalition, said its mission of promoting “decarbonized” hydrogen — produced from renewables or from fossil fuels paired with carbon capture — is shared by the Biden administration. The coalition’s members include several of the country’s biggest gas utilities and oil major Chevron Corp.
“The CHFC recognizes that this is a very dynamic area as the Biden Administration determines next steps on how best to ensure ‘win-win’ solutions in the clean energy transition,” said Angielski in an email.
‘Deploy, deploy, deploy’
Biden tasked the environmental justice advisory group with defining what counts as a benefit. The council’s report said 100% of climate investments “must do no harm to Environmental Justice communities” and said the benefits should go to people of color, immigrants, LGBTQ people, community groups and small businesses, and essential services for underserved areas.
Renewable power and energy efficiency projects, public transit services and transit hubs that promote small businesses, and clean energy jobs training could qualify as benefiting a justice area, it said.
Other energy projects that would not qualify as beneficial, it said, were nuclear power procurements; cap-and-trade programs; highway expansions; incentives to investor-owned utilities; and pipeline creation, expansion or maintenance.
“We want 100% Justice; it would be unreasonable to have any climate investment working against historically harmed communities,” the group’s members wrote.
Several members of the council did not return requests for comment.
The council’s report lands as Biden administration officials deepen their outreach in oil and gas country.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last week cast carbon capture and storage as a job opportunity for the oil and gas industry in a virtual speech to the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck, N.D.
She insisted that traditional fossil energy would remain important to the U.S., even as Biden promotes green energy: “Our allies, our trading partners, they’re still going to need to power their homes and businesses, and we can provide fuels that are less carbon-intensive,” she said.
Granholm noted the U.S. has invested billions over the past two decades to develop carbon management technologies, adding that many of the jobs in the sector require the same skills as oil and gas exploration.
“That means that today’s petroleum engineers could be suited to become tomorrow’s subsurface carbon managers,” she said.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R), who is challenging his state’s energy industry to help make the state carbon-neutral by the end of the decade, said in a statement that Granholm has asked him to help her office strategize on ways to collaborate on CCS research and development, along with hydrogen power.
Granholm’s remarks came as she said she understood the gas and oil industry is nervous about the administration’s climate goals, including achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
“That kind of goal makes you uncomfortable and worried,” she said, adding, “I’m here to tell you, you will not have to do it alone. We want to be a partner.”
Granholm last week told Axios that when it comes to “clean energy, green jobs,” she’s “super bullish” on the technologies that could get the U.S. to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
“For example, carbon capture, use and sequestration, green hydrogen, blue hydrogen … I love geothermal — that’s super exciting,” Granholm said. “Small hydropower, advanced nuclear, offshore wind, the next generation of both solar and wind technologies, materials science, buildings, district heating … there’s so much happening in the clean energy space that creates jobs. I’m bullish on all of it, and I’m just hopeful that we are able to deploy, deploy, deploy.”