In September, Bonnie Ewald and her husband received certified letters from a company called Summit Carbon Solutions that reported that their 170-acre soybean-and-corn farm in Crawford County, Iowa was in the way of a pipeline that could release carbon dioxide. will take. Ethanol plant in the Midwest to an underground storage site in North Dakota.
He would never have heard that.
“We thought it was ridiculous,” Evold, 76, recalled.
Evold, a retired high school teacher and former local newspaper columnist, began researching the project online.
Summit several months ago touted the $4.5 billion pipeline as “the world’s largest carbon capture and storage project”, saying it would help Iowa’s ethanol industry remain viable by reducing its carbon footprint. will help as the country races to halt the effects of climate change. But first, the summit needed to bury the lines beneath thousands of parcels of privately owned property, mostly farmland.
Evold was concerned about her farm being damaged, or losing its value. And he saw the project as a violation of the farmers’ deep emotional connection to their land. She became an anti-pipeline activist, writing letters to Iowa newspapers and organizing an opposition group of fellow farm owners.
He is now among hundreds of holdouts who have aligned with some environmentalists who say pipeline project plans are unsafe, pointing to a 2020 leak in a carbon dioxide pipeline in Mississippi that sickened dozens of people. . The summit says the pipeline will be safe during construction and once it starts carrying carbon dioxide.
Opponents also argue that the pipeline – one of dozens of carbon capture projects launched in recent years, backed by billions of dollars in federal subsidies – will do little to fight climate change.
Two more companies have announced plans to build a similar pipeline in Iowa, making the state a focal point in an escalating battle over carbon capture, an age-old technology largely used to squeeze more oil out of the ground. used but is now being promoted as an environmental remedy.
The conflict in Iowa has sparked protests and tense public hearings, a pattern that has emerged in states across the country amid a boom in carbon capture and storage. There are only 12 such projects going commercially in the United States, but, due to the explosion of federal subsidies, there are 85 in development, 51 of which were announced in 2021 alone, according to the Clean Air Task Force, a non-profit organization. -For-profit organization that advocates. For the expansion of carbon capture.
While carbon capture has not yet proven to be economically sustainable, and its environmental benefits are debatable, it is now seen by some as one of the last hopes of halting planet-warming emissions before the world Unprecedented heat waves pass a tipping point in drought. , fires, floods and extinction of species.
President Joe Biden has made carbon capture and storage a cornerstone of his climate plan. Biden’s infrastructure law, enacted in November, includes more than $8 billion for carbon capture projects, and he has proposed more generous tax breaks for developers that have not yet been approved by Congress. This is on top of the more than $8 billion in direct funding and tax credits that the federal government has already given carbon capture projects since 2010 – despite the fact that government watchdogs reported high failure rates and improperly claimed taxes. Evidence of credit found.
A variety of polluting industries – ethanol, natural gas, coal, chemicals – see carbon capture as a way to meet emissions reduction promises and compete in carbon-credit programs while keeping their current operations productive. Proponents of the technology say increasing federal subsidies could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 250 million metric tons by 2035. This is still only a fraction of the more than 5 billion metric tons emitted by the United States in 2020.
Lee Beck, the international director of the Clean Air Task Force for Carbon Capture, said the Iowa projects “include the next generation of carbon management projects” in which private companies and investors see a viable future for the technology.
“Climate regulation will come, and we want to be on the path to net zero emissions,” Beck said.
The rise of carbon capture has divided environmentalists. Some say it’s worth trying to do anything to avert a climate disaster. Others argue that carbon capture is a waste of money that can make things worse by increasing the lives of polluting industries.
“This is a scandal that will ruin our opportunity to respond to this crisis, and it needs to stop,” said Jim Walsh, policy director at Food & Water Watch, a nonprofit that aims to reduce fossil fuel production. Endorses and advocates a diversion. 100% renewable energy including wind and solar.
The transformation of carbon capture from a tool for oil extraction in response to global warming reflects the entrenched politics of climate change, in which the urgent need to cut greenhouse gases has driven an above strategy and opened a spigot for government dollars, Most of which benefit polluting industries.
“We have to try anything,” said Gregory Nemet, who studies how public policy can inspire climate-friendly technology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. “If we want to tackle the climate problem and make it safe, we have to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, and that’s not far off.”
Iowa may now be the biggest test of technology.
Of the three pipelines proposed for the state, Summit Carbon Solutions’ project is the largest – and one that has garnered widespread response. If approved by state officials, the project would be able to transport 12 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, far more than any pipeline currently running.
The carbon dioxide will come from plants that produce ethanol, a fuel made from fermented corn. This process creates massive amounts of carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Summit’s plan will capture the gas before it is released and turn it into a liquid.
Liquid emissions will be shot through 2,000 miles of pipelines, collecting more carbon dioxide from more than 30 ethanol plants in five states before arriving at a storage site in Bismarck, North Dakota. The carbon dioxide would then be carried thousands of feet underground into giant, porous rock formations that would later be capped.
Almost all carbon capture projects in operation in the United States use carbon dioxide to draw more oil from underground, by injecting it into muddy oil formations, where it lowers the viscosity of the oil and makes it easier to pump to the surface. . This decades-old technology helps projects make money, but also contributes to the burning of fossil fuels.
Summit says it will not do this in its North Dakota project, but will instead store carbon dioxide underground. Environmentalists say they don’t trust Summit to deliver on that promise.
Summit says its plan will help ethanol plants, which face an uncertain future with the rise of electric cars, to stay in business by becoming advocates of an increasingly valuable commodity: a fuel with a low carbon footprint, It is prized by California and other states. -Carbon fuel standard.
The project will expand the plants’ “long-term profitability and viability, which is important for rural America, as half of its corn crop is converted to ethanol,” said Justin Kirchhoff, president of Summit Egg Investors, like Summit Carbon Solutions. , is a division of the Iowa-based Summit Agriculture Group.
Kirchhoff said the company would also rely on federal tax credits. Without credit, the Summit pipeline “would not be financially viable,” he said.
The project requires approval from the Iowa Utilities Board before construction can begin, a decision that is not expected to be made for months.
The summit also needed access to land owned by thousands of people, mostly farm owners, to build the pipeline. Some, concerned about the impact on their crop yields or angered by the company trying to push them into their backyards, are refusing the company’s cash offerings to rest on their land. If Summit can’t win them over, the company can ask the utilities board to invoke the power of prestigious domains to force deals.
This has angered landowners even more, and prompted an effort in the state legislature to ban the use of eminent domain for pipelines. The bill, opposed by Summit and two other pipeline developers, failed. The landlord and his legislator allies are still trying.
Opponents have noted that the summit employs some of Iowa’s most influential political figures, including Governor Terry Branstad, a former Republican who serves as a senior policy advisor for Summit Carbon Solutions; Bruce Rastetter, a prominent Republican donor who runs the parent company, Summit Agriculture Group; and Jess Vilsack, who is the general counsel for Summit Carbon Solutions and the son of US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
“It’s about the powerful versus the powerless,” said Jessica Mazur, who organized the protest for the Sierra Club’s Iowa chapter.
Summit Carbon Solutions spokesperson Courtney Ryan said in an email that the company is “proud of the bipartisan team working to advance this project and it is a reflection of its importance to agriculture and ethanol in the Midwest.” She also said that the summit was “adhering to every federal and state guidelines.”
Evold wants to fail them.
She and her husband no longer work on the family farm, which they bought 50 years ago, when they were 20 years old. He sold his house there, moved a few hours north to Dickinson County, Iowa, and now rents the farm to a young man who works the land. Evold wants corn to remain an attractive crop. She wants to help the environment. But it is not worth facilitating a corporation that will dig its land for a pipeline, she said.
“It’s a price thing with the people of the farm,” Evold said. “The land is yours. We cherish our agricultural background. That’s what we are. This is who I am.”
So it will turn down offers from the pipeline manufacturer. So will many others. But the pipeline may still be built.