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Environmental groups warn fast-tracking carbon capture a mistake in Pennsylvania

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(The Center Square) — A bill establishing a regulatory framework for carbon capture in Pennsylvania sailed through a House committee last week without discussion, but opponents warn that it would make the commonwealth worse.

Senate Bill 831 passed the Republican-controlled Senate 30-20 in April and was taken up by the Democratic-controlled House at the end of June. Though Senate Democrats staunchly opposed the bill, it received neither discussion nor objection in the House.

The bill declares carbon capture to be in the public interest and clarifies that the state would have primary enforcement authority from the U.S. EPA. The EPA has granted such authority to Louisiana, North Dakota, and Wyoming; Texas, Arizona, and West Virginia have applied for it as well.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee handled the bill, but in the House, it went to the Consumer Protection, Technology and Utilities Committee before advancing to Appropriations.

That path may have been easier for the bill: A June hearing of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee had Democrats caution against doing hydrogen hubs, which plan to use carbon capture technology, “the wrong way.”

Though Democrats in the General Assembly have warned against the problems with carbon capture, Gov. Josh Shapiro has endorsed it in his proposed energy plans.

Critics, however, warn that the bill is a misstep.

“The bill completely disregards fundamental issues regarding carbon capture and storage and the use of pore space,” dozens of environmental and community groups wrote in an open letter to House members.

The letter was coordinated by the Better Path Coalition and included signatures from statewide groups like the Clean Air Council and local groups like the Center for Coalfield Justice and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

They warn that it’s difficult to find suitable places to store carbon dioxide underground; that the gas is prone to migrating out of storage areas due to small leaks; and not enough research has been done to determine if Marcellus Shale is actually suitable for storage purposes.

Pennsylvania’s landscape riddled with known and forgotten oil and gas wells could also complicate matters — uncapped old wells could help carbon dioxide injected into storage wells leak back into the atmosphere, the letter argued.

Without carbon capture projects, reducing emissions while growing industry with hydrogen hubs will be difficult. But even with carbon capture projects, those problems remain. Though hundreds of millions of dollars in federal subsidies, along with tax credits, have been thrown at the projects to make them work, carbon capture experiments have struggled to become viable.

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