Biden’s Carbon Capture Conundrum: A Green Mirage for Big Oil?

In a recent twist of environmental policy, President Joe Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by mandating the capture of emissions from their smokestacks. While the effort to reduce greenhouse emissions is commendable, the reliance on “capturing emissions” for this task raises some serious red flags.

The linchpin of Biden’s plan is the concept of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) technology. Theoretically, CCS allows power plants to “trap” carbon emissions before they escape into the atmosphere and then “stash” them underground. That sounds like a great idea, right? But here’s the catch: this technology comes with a whole host of problems that seem to have slipped under the radar of these new regulations.

Even the most optimistic supporters of CCS admit that the technology is exceedingly expensive. Moreover, cheaper alternatives exist that can generate electricity without any greenhouse gas emissions. Wind and solar power, for instance, cost about the same as or less than natural gas power, sans the additional capital and operational costs of adding a carbon-scrubbing unit.

Now here’s the real kicker: despite its hefty price tag, carbon capture isn’t even proven to work on a large scale in the power generation sector. The most significant power plant to utilize CCS, the Boundary Dam power plant in Saskatchewan, Canada, stands as a pricey failure.

Mainstream media, however, seem to have a knack for dressing up the bleak track record of CCS. For example, The New York Times reported in April that CCS technology is used by “fewer than 10” power plants in the U.S., citing anonymous sources. The Washington Post claimed that four active U.S. power plants use CCS technology, a count obtained from the Clean Air Task Force, which has board members tied to businesses serving the fossil fuel industry.

But the true figure for the number of U.S. power plants currently employing CCS? Zero.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) lists nine U.S. CCS projects in the “Power and Heat” sector, but none of these are operational. One is “suspended,” and the other eight are “planned.”

These inaccuracies, whether they stem from anonymous industry sources or simple fact-checking blunders, aren’t politically neutral. They echo the fossil fuel industry’s narrative, which views CCS as a lifeline, a way to extend their operations in an era of growing concern about greenhouse gas emissions. This narrative aligns conveniently with the Biden administration’s push for CCS, even as their approval of fossil fuel projects compounds the climate crisis.

Here’s the hard truth: carbon capture would still present issues even if it worked as planned. By enabling the continued production and use of fossil fuels, it perpetuates environmental harms beyond greenhouse gas emissions. These include particulate air and water pollution, which disproportionately affect Indigenous, Black, Brown, and poor white communities with severe health consequences.

Thus far, there’s no substantial evidence that CCS is effective at reducing carbon emissions. Instead, wind, solar, and other clean renewable sources are a safer bet, and it’s high time the public heard more about these viable alternatives.