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Limits on carbon capture quashed in Louisiana Legislature despite environmental concerns


Limits on carbon capture quashed in Louisiana Legislature despite environmental concerns

Jun 07, 2023 | 5:14 pm ET
By Claire Sullivan
Limits on carbon capture quashed in Louisiana Legislature despite environmental concerns
Bills to limit carbon sequestration on Lake Maurepas failed to pass the Louisiana Legislature.

A handful of Louisiana lawmakers brought bills this session to address public outcry over carbon capture projects, but their fellow legislators rejected most of their proposals.

Carbon capture and sequestration is a process where industrial facilities contain their carbon dioxide emissions to inject and store them below ground instead of releasing the gas into the atmosphere. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards has embraced the technology in his plan to reach net-zero carbon emissions in Louisiana by 2050. Carbon capture projects were also incentivized with a boosted tax credit in the federal Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. 

So far, there are at least 20 capture storage sites planned for Louisiana, according to a recent Empower report commissioned by the nonprofit 2030 Fund. Ten have applied for a Class VI permit from the Environmental Protection Agency, which are used for carbon sequestration.

But neighbors of the proposed carbon capture facilities  worry about safety risks and ecological  damage, and some environmentalists say the technology enables continued polluting by companies instead of encouraging them to move away from fossil fuels.

Lake Maurepas project

Amid significant public backlash to a carbon capture project, Livingston Parish tried to put a yearlong moratorium on test wells from the company Air Products, which has plans to sequester CO2 in Lake Maurepas,  but a federal judge ruled against the prohibition, according to the Associated Press.

Two Republican lawmakers with districts adjacent to Lake Maurepas, which is just west of Lake Pontchartrain, sponsored proposals to halt the Air Products project. Both died in the House

House Bill 267 by Rep. William “Bill” Wheat Jr. of Ponchatoula, would have placed a 10-year moratorium on carbon sequestration on or below Lake Maurepas and the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area. His bill aimed to protect the area from what it called “new and untested industries.”

The Wheat proposal noted the ecological importance of the area as recognized by the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, which has planned a $200 million river reintroduction project to revitalize the Maurepas Swamp.

House Bill 120, by Rep. Nicholas Muscarello Jr. of Hammond, would have prohibited the state commissioner of conservation to issue permits allowing the construction, installation or use of any permanent structure protruding out of lakes Maurepas or Pontchartrain.

Another proposal from Wheat, House Bill 308,  got stuck in the House Committee on Natural Resources. It would have required companies submit an environmental impact statement to the Office of Coastal Management to obtain a permit to build injection wells or pipelines for carbon sequestration in Lake Maurepas or the Maurepas Swamp Wildlife Management Area.

Other rejected legislation

Some broader bills to address carbon capture also failed to gain traction.

Rep. Robby Carter, D-Amite, had a host of bills related to carbon capture rejected.

One of his proposals, House Bill 10, would have removed the eminent domain authority of carbon storage facility operators, which could force landowners to give up property for the construction of pipelines. It was involuntarily deferred in the House Committee on Natural Resources. 

The committee also killed House Bill 35 from Carter that would have prohibited carbon sequestration projects in St. Helena Parish, and his proposal to hold industry responsible for damages resulting from carbon sequestration projects, House Bill 312, failed to advance from committee. 

Two proposals from Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Albany, were also involuntarily deferred in the House Committee on Natural Resources. House Bill 435, would have allowed carbon capture projects only if emissions were stored in the Gulf of Mexico. House Bill 454 would have required a local election to approve carbon sequestration projects within a parish.

State leaders cheer carbon capture

While proposals to rein in carbon capture languished in the legislature, the state Senate passed a resolution urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to grant the state’s request for primary enforcement authority in administering permitting for Class VI injection wells used in carbon sequestration.

The resolution, authored by Senate President Patrick Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, and co-authored by 27 senators present, heralded carbon capture as an “integral part” of the energy transition.

Gov. Edwards, too, has championed the technology as an important component of his climate initiatives. He was the keynote speaker at a Washington, D.C., forum in May on carbon capture and storage held by the Global CCS Institute, a think tank that aims to accelerate the use of CO2 sequestration.

Not only is Louisiana particularly vulnerable to climate change, but it also contributes significantly to emissions because of the prevalence of the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries, he said. Carbon capture could be the solution while also providing an economic boon to the state, according to the governor.

“We have approached this, our climate action plan in general but carbon capture storage in particular, as a real opportunity for Louisiana to attract the kind of investment in job creation that we all want for our state,” Edwards said. “And it happens to have this added benefit of allowing us to realize our climate action plan and meet our goals.”

Up in the air

With only a few hours left in the legislative session, a proposal from House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, could still be approved this session. 

House Bill 571 would expand notice requirements for carbon sequestration projects. The state conservation commissioner must notify parish governing authorities of any completed permit applications for Class V and Class VI wells in their area. 

It also expands the environmental analysis required in the permit for a Class VI well. Companies would have to answer several questions, such as if the project limits adverse environmental impacts as much as possible, how a cost-benefit analysis of environmental impacts versus social and economic benefits works out and if there’s an alternative site for the project that would offer more environmental protection.

Schexnayder’s bill has passed both chambers  and is now in a conference committee after the House rejected the Senate amendments to the bill. Bills that come out of a conference committee must be approved by both chambers again before lawmakers adjourn for good at 6 p.m. Thursday.