Recently, a group called Food & Water Watch has been treating those living near potential carbon capture projects to a barrage of adverse arguments, including the unsurprising conclusion that folks would rather not see eminent domain authority used solely for private gain. FWW also notes that the use of agricultural offsets as an aspect of carbon policy can’t be trusted. But let’s look a little more closely at FWW and the claims it makes.

First, CCUS projects often confer benefits directly on the communities that they serve. For example, capturing the fermentation emissions from biofuel production maintains a pathway for farmers and agricultural communities to create a sustainable market for their products on into the future.

For other forms of industrial production, CCUS can maintain manufacturing facilities – the jobs they create and the taxes they pay – while making them more compatible with climate goals. CCUS projects directly benefit the communities they serve and simply don’t have the same fact patterns that FWW has used to batter other forms of infrastructure.

Second, FWW is a curious messenger defending property rights since they seem to oppose it in many other contexts. For example, FWW touts its victories in court subjecting agricultural facilities to an overlay of federal regulation. It is reported that one of FWW’s board members has even called “on all nations to take water out of private hands.” FWW hardly seems to be too concerned with personal property rights.

Third, the polling data that FWW has advanced seems an awful lot like a political push poll, where not much information is disclosed in order to lead the folks answering the questions to a particular, pre-ordained result. Public perception of CCS projects is much more complex, but let us take a crack at it:

  • Most folks don’t know a lot about CCS or for that matter all carbon removal practices and technologies. Three quarters in a recent, reputable poll. That makes FWW’s conclusions a little suspicious to say the least.
  • What we do know is that recent polling with better methodology – for example, a non-partisan Pew Research Center poll with over 10,000 respondents – found that some 65 percent of Americans say the federal government is doing too little to reduce the effects of climate change. For more, see the data here.
  • Even more intriguing: when presented with the various options for reducing these effects of climate change, Pew found strong public support for CCS. For example, 84% of U.S. adults support providing a business tax credit for carbon capture technology that can store carbon emissions before they enter the atmosphere. Large majorities of Democrats (90%) and Republicans (78%) back this proposal. That makes CCS projects among the most popular policy choices.
  • Here’s an even more interesting take. When a focus group was presented with various options for input into CCS pipelines and projects, it made a difference too. Particularly if the emissions captured came from biofuels. The results, published in the International Journal of Greenhouse Gas Control, found that the survey “allowed respondents to make trade-offs by expressing preferences for complete CCS systems instead of evaluating single elements in isolation.” They concluded that the pipeline “NIMBY effect, however, disappears when CO2 from a biogas-fired plant is used for the injection. We conclude that it may be possible to avoid the NIMBY effect for geological storage field trials by using bioenergy with carbon dioxide capture and storage.”
  • The future of public perception looks even brighter. A recent poll conducted by 4-H and Harris found that 80 percent of teenagers feel like climate change will affect big decisions in their communities, where they live. 77 percent feel they have a direct responsibility to address climate change.

Last, it is not clear that groups like FWW can be trusted to render an objective assessment of CCUS projects and the pipelines they necessitate. It’s almost like they suffer from a hangover effect related to past high-profile fossil projects they have opposed – projects that have little or nothing to do with CCS infrastructure. Watching FWW’s Twitter feed proves this point.

On March 8, 2022, FWW promised to “keep working to shut down ALL pipelines (emphasis in the original)” and on February 18, 2022, FWW termed “all pipelines” as “disastrous in every way.” These hardly seem like objective views that people can use to call balls and strikes on projects so important to maintaining energy security and addressing GHG emissions.