Over 150 Groups Push White House to Enact Carbon Pipeline Moratorium

Letter warns of dangers linked to pipeline buildout to prop up carbon capture

Published May 30, 2023

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Climate and Energy

Letter warns of dangers linked to pipeline buildout to prop up carbon capture

Letter warns of dangers linked to pipeline buildout to prop up carbon capture

Amid the Congressional push to fast track dirty energy projects, over 150 groups sent a letter to President Biden today urging him to issue an executive order that would put a moratorium on federal permits for new carbon dioxide pipelines until new safety regulations are finalized by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). The proposal President Biden negotiated with Congressional Republicans to extend the debt ceiling could further reduce public oversight for CO2 pipelines, which already lack significant federal review required for other fossil fuel pipelines.

“We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests’ rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2. This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit- driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles,” said Food & Water Watch Policy Director Jim Walsh. “Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policy makers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money maker for dirty energy producers.” 

The Biden administration has embraced a range of carbon capture technologies, offering billions in tax incentives and subsidies to promote pipelines and other carbon capture infrastructure.  This approach requires the construction of tens of thousands of miles of new pipeline – which presents distinct health and safety risks to nearby communities. These projects are moving forward before regulators are able to update health and safety laws, like those at PHMSA, which advocates are targeting for increasing scrutiny. 

“A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment,” said Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “The Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place.”  

Following a pipeline rupture, carbon dioxide can displace oxygen – leading to asphyxiation and even death. Since CO2 is odorless and heavier than air, a release from a peak of a storage facility or pipeline could spread undetected for miles, suffocating everything in its path. The 2020 rupture of a CO2 pipeline in Satartia, Mississippi sent dozens to the hospital, prompting PHMSA to evaluate existing regulations for transporting hazardous materials. The agency is expected to propose new rules in 2024.

The letter spells out several areas of concern with carbon pipelines – including inadequate ‘safety zones’ in case of leaks, the presence of contaminants in CO2 that could weaken pipelines, and inadequate training and equipment for first responders and emergency personnel. 

Three massive carbon pipeline networks are being proposed in the Midwest, in advance of any revised safety guidelines. The projects have raised substantial public opposition, especially in Iowa where PHMA will be holding public meetings in Des Moines on May 31 and June 1 to discuss safety concerns.

As the letter states, “The absence of strong regulations leaves urban and environmental justice communities at greater risk, since carbon capture and storage will be increasingly located in industrial areas. Therefore, it is imperative that you issue an executive order putting a moratorium in place on all federal CO2 pipeline permits until PHMSA finalizes its CO2 pipeline rule.” 

“CO2 pipelines represent nothing more than a money-making scheme rooted in capitalism which actually exacerbates the climate crisis by not reinforcing the necessity to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In North Dakota we don’t even have flaring under control and now we have to deal with these dangerous pipelines that will bring CO2 to be used for enhanced oil recovery leading to even more sickness in our communities. They just don’t make any sense,” said Kandi White, Programs Director at Indigenous Environmental Network.

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Press Contact: Peter Hart [email protected]

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