- While the current bill includes some of these as options, a main beneficiary of the funding is likely to be mechanical-chemical Direct Air Capture, an unproven approach that will bring with it hazards and dangers, ranging from pipeline ruptures to contamination of drinking water, which will inordinately affect frontline, low-income communities and communities of color.
The main CDR “beneficiary” of a CDRLA program will not be direct air capture (DAC). The proposed program is “solution neutral” and selects based on cost and co-benefits, allowing for many CDR pathways to be selected. The opposition cites “hazards” associated with DAC that are not borne out by scholarship and academic literature, including the IPCC.
This is simply an inaccurate claim. In reality, during the 5-year pilot program established in the CDRLA, the greatest likelihood is that non-DAC solutions dominate selection. This is because of the $350/ton cap which is far below the average cost of DAC today ($600-$1,000).
To the extent that DAC is selected through this program, it is most likely that DAC applications will be modular and distributed, rather than industrial, in scale.
It is also completely inaccurate to claim that DAC is “unproven” or will “bring hazards and dangers that will inordinately affect low-income communities and communities of color”. The opposition must provide some references to back up this claim, and they will be hard pressed to find any in the peer-reviewed literature. Our climate policies cannot be dictated by unfounded scare-tactics, and must instead be informed by science.
At its core the CDRLA puts in place multiple policies that not only safeguard communities from harm, but select for CDR projects that have been verified by a third-party assessor (reviewed and approved by the DEC’s Deputy Commissioner for Equity and Justice), to bring economic and ecological benefits to our communities, and will not impose economic and ecological burdens on our communities. Further, at the outset of the program, prior to implementation, the state must complete a survey of CDR potential and social benefits which must include direct engagement with disadvantaged communities whose input will assist in structuring rules and implementation.
- Mechanical-chemical carbon removal requires hazardous storage.
Millions of tons of removed C02 must be stored beneath the ocean or in underground formations where it can lead to earthquakes or be accidentally released or leaked.
Topline: This concern does not reflect the scientific consensus that geologic storage of CO2 is safe, secure, and durable. In any case, New York has no underground CO2 storage (terrestrial or offshore) in operation or under development. The majority of the CDR pathways likely to be procured by the state during the CDRLA’s initial authorization – biochar, mineralization, and ocean-based pathways – include their own storage. For any pathways that result in CO2 that needs to be sequestered, there is more than enough available storage capacity in concrete, which is proven, economical, and secure.
- If released, concentrated CO2 is toxic and can cause catastrophic injury and result in mass casualty events. We do not support cleaning up one environmental mess by potentially causing others.
Topline: See #13/14. There is no plausible scenario in which mass casualty events will result from the forms of CDR that are viable in New York State today or in the future. The CDRLA’s extensive safety and community protections would prohibit such solutions in any case.
- When carbon is removed directly from the air – or from gas/oil facilities smokestacks – it must be transported to where it can be “durably” stored. In six midwestern states, 3,500 miles of CO2 pipelines are being planned to transport millions of tons of carbon, and there are plans for seizing private land by eminent domain to build them.
Topline: Under the CDRLA projects that capture CO2 from gas, oil or other industrial facilities are ineligible for selection. As summarized above, not all CDR pathways entail the transportation of CO2 by pipeline, and indeed, the most ready and viable within our state do not. Even technologies like DAC can be paired with non-geological sequestration that lock CO2 permanently into building materials and ‘ultramafic’ surface level minerals. The CDRLA’s selection criteria favors these solutions.
- DAC is energy intensive, requiring fossil fuels to power the operation. 1) CO2 in the atmosphere is much more dilute than in, for example, flue gas from a power station or cement plant. 2) The chemical reaction required to capture CO2 in large Direct Air Capture operations only occurs at very high temperatures. 3) CO2 needs to be compressed under very high pressure to be transported and then injected into geological formations. This contributes to Direct Air Capture projects’ higher energy needs and cost relative to other CO2 capture technologies and applications.
Topline: The opposition offers a very narrow and dated assessment of Direct Air Capture technology which does not reflect the current state of development. Not all DAC relies upon high heat to operate, and new technologies use renewable electricity and moisture instead. However, thermal DAC can also be integrated on a small distributed scale at facilities that produce heat, using waste heat as a resource to drive operations. Under the competitive selection framework of the CDRLA, energy intensive or fossil fuel based DAC proposals would be eliminated from contention.
- According to a white paper published by Microsoft in 2021, the cost of direct air capture is more than 50 times the cost per metric ton of most biological carbon sequestration climate solutions. To cover some of their costs, direct air capture companies in the US sell the CO2 byproduct for a variety of purposes including enhanced oil recovery or “EOR,” whereby captured CO2 is sold to oil companies, which then inject the CO2 into semi-depleted oil wells to pump even more oil out of them. See the March 2021 CNBC news report here.
Topline: Microsoft has been a leader in CDR support and investment, and the CDRLA’s design was partially inspired by their work, and the work of other private sector pioneers.
In fact, Microsoft just published a 2030 report that is near-exact alignment with the CDRLA policy framework:
“Microsoft is committed to removing the carbon that we cannot reduce and to helping jumpstart the global carbon removal market,” said Elizabeth Willmott, carbon program director at Microsoft.
The CDRLA explicitly bans enhanced oil recovery (EOR) from selection eligibility.
Today DAC is more expensive than other CDR pathways. However, the technology is extremely space-efficient, and has a global removal potential of upwards of 40 billion tons per year, according to the National Academy Negative Emissions and Storage report from 2019. The CDRLA aims to leverage modest amounts of public funds to help drive down costs, following models that were used to make solar, wind, and now battery storage more affordable.
- Professor Mark Jacobson of Stanford published a paper documenting that “spending money on carbon capture and storage or use (CCS/U) and synthetic direct air capture and storage and use increases carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions, air pollution, and costs relative to spending the same money on clean, renewable electricity replacing fossil or biofuel combustion.” (See additional article.)
Topline: The opposition authors consistently cite a small number of studies by a single academic author, Mark Jacobson, whose analysis is based on a form of energy intensive DAC that would never be selected under the CDRLA, nor likely realized anywhere in the world. The opposition is advised to consult a broader literature concerning the economic viability of DAC in the long term.
A good place to start would be Princeton Professor Stephen Pacala, who edited the National Academy of Sciences Negative Emission and Reliable Sequestration Report. In a 2018 interview he summed up the need for CDR in clear terms:
“… humanity keeps procrastinating on mitigation and so it becomes impossible at some point to meet the safe or declared target of limiting temperature increases to 1.5 to 2 degrees [Celsius] without negative emissions. That’s sadly where we are now. To meet the Paris Agreement targets, we need on the order of 10 billion metric tons of negative emissions — 20 percent of today’s annual emissions — by approximately mid-century, and 20 billion tons by century’s end. That’s a lot.”
In the same interview Prof. Pacala has the following to say about DAC progress and cost reduction.
“With the direct air capture technologies, 10 years ago you would have said that’s just like a fairy tale. But because of diligent activity by a small number of technical people, there’s been very rapid progress, so much so that knowledgeable people who are not starry-eyed, but just hard-headed, believe that there is a very high probability that a research effort within 10 years would produce direct air capture at less than a dollar a gallon of gasoline. That’s $100 a ton [of captured CO2].”
- 330 American scientists reject carbon capture and storage. In October 2021, more than 330 U.S. scientists wrote to President Biden to urge him “to reject fossil fuel industry delay tactics like carbon capture and storage, blue hydrogen, and carbon offsets that impede the rapid transition to renewable energy and perpetuate a racist fossil fuel system.”
Topline: The petition cited clearly focuses its concerns on carbon capture and sequestration, not carbon dioxide removal. It calls for bans on “new fracking and drilling on public lands and waters, stop[ping] the approval of fossil fuel infrastructure projects, and end[ing] fossil fuel exports and subsidies.” The CDRLA is entirely aligned with this objective, and the urgent timeframe for action that the signatories call for, including centering policy on environmental justice and equity. We align with the petitioners’ core demand and warning: “Carbon indulgences and hypothetical tech solutions are dangerous distractions. Far too much time has been wasted already” and that “the science is clear: To stand a chance of avoiding complete climate catastrophe, we must halt all new fossil fuel development now. Today, not tomorrow,”
The CDRLA is designed from the bottom up to deny hypothetical tech solutions and dangerous distractions, and to select for ready solutions, exclude harmful ones, and give preference to those with strong community co-benefits.
- We are concerned that mechanical-chemical carbon removal is being used as an alternative to cutting emissions or an excuse for delayed action by governments and industry. We see technical- chemical Direct Air removal as a speculative venture that will benefit profit-seekers and risk dangerous harms to frontline communities, particularly when operated at scale. It is being used by fossil fuel companies to keep pumping oil and gas, and releasing greenhouse gasses into our atmosphere, undercutting our last chance at staying under a 1.5-degree global temperature rise.
Topline: The CDRLA is designed to create an alternative route to just, equitable and effective carbon dioxide removal, and one that excludes dependency on the very industries that have caused the crisis and continue to use their political and financial power to delay action.
- It is not convincing to argue that we will do everything possible to get to 85% greenhouse gas reductions and the technologies envisioned in your bill will get us to the remaining 15% reduction. We are nowhere close to achieving 85% reduction and in fact we support major investments in energy efficiency and striving toward 100% renewable energy sources.
Topline: The revised version of the CDRLA does not propose that CDR be used to close the 15% emissions gap included in the CLCPA law to reach net zero emissions by 2050. The original version of the bill aligned 25 year carbon removal goals with that 15% because durable carbon dioxide removal because durable carbon removal is superior to ineffective, low quality, short-term, cheap offsets that are the preference of polluters. We support a 100% decarbonization (i.e. zero offset) pathway if existing law is modified to achieve that objective. In any event, carbon dioxide removal is still necessary per the IPCC, and it is up to climate forward state’s like New York to lead just and equitable pathways for CDR scale-up in coming decades.
- New York’s indigenous energy resources are the sun, the wind, water and geothermal energy. Let’s work together to maximize those resources and not waste time and money on false solutions such as direct air capture. We can do better. We would like to work with you to enthusiastically support legislation that gets us off fossil fuels and does not perpetuate their continued use. That is not your intention, but that is how the fossil fuel industry is marketing these projects.
Topline: A science-based, equitable climate policy should not take its cues from fossil fuel messaging, but rather must focus on what is necessary to ensure a livable climate. The science is very clear: that includes the ability to remove significant legacy emissions already in the atmosphere. It is up to New York and other states to advance just and equitable CDR, and to shut down - like we did with fracking - policies that incentivize inaction, and which profit the extraction industry. New York’s values, assets and existing climate laws and programs single out our state as the natural place to set this standard.
- Fact Sheet: Carbon Dioxide Removal - U.S. Department of Energy.
- Removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere must be part of climate change policy - Morton, et al. [essay]
- [Explainer: Carbon Dioxide Removal - What, Why and When? with Dr. Stephanie Arcusa 10 minute presentation]
- How to decolonize the atmosphere - Dr. Holly Jean Buck [essay]
- Climate Solutions: Is It Feasible to Remove Enough CO2 from the Air? - An Interview with Dr. Stephen Pacala, Princeton University.
- The CDR Primer - A free online resource authored by leading scientists and scholars in the climate science field.
- This Is CDR - A weekly webinar series from OpenAir exploring the wide range of CDR pathways currently being researched, developed, and deployed in New York.