MORGANTOWN – The U.S. EPA recently responded to a letter from the West Virginia Manufacturers Association joined with seven other business and industry groups from five states to urge the EPA to get the ball rolling on permitting for injection wells used for curbing greenhouse gas emissions through carbon capture and sequestration projects.
In its response, EPA explained why it takes so long and said it aims to do it faster. But the answer contained no specifics on how it plans to improve its performance; the answer left at least two of the seven signatories unsatisfied.
Carbon emissions are captured and stored in Class VI underground injection (UIC) wells, which requires an EPA permit. But states can apply for and receive primary enforcement authority, often called primacy, to implementing EPA approved UIC programs.
Back in March, the groups wrote to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, “Our members are collectively pursuing billions of dollars in new investments in Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), which will provide secure, good paying jobs and generate new revenue streams for communities across the country. CCS investments also represent a significant opportunity to expand U.S. leadership in climate technology, and are a critical part of realizing the goals of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
“However,” they wrote, “our members are increasingly concerned about uncertain permitting timelines for Class VI injection wells and the lengthy process for states to secure primacy. We join the growing, bipartisan chorus of stakeholders and policymakers who are calling attention to this lack of movement that is obstructing needed investments in CCS.”
Four states – including West Virginia – have pending primacy applications with at least eight more expressing interest in applying, they wrote. More than 30 proposed Class VI permits remain under review by EPA, some of which have been in the queue for years.
They wrote, “Without immediate improvement, the current Class VI permitting timeline will continue to serve as a barrier to meeting emission reduction goals – including the ones the Biden Administration has set – while discouraging much-needed infrastructure investments across the country.”
EPA Assistant Administrator Radhika Fox directed the agency’s response to Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry Director Kevin Sunday.
Fox said the EPA supports primacy efforts and reviews each application carefully, to ensure that the State’s Class VI application is complete and that its Class VI permitting regulations are as stringent as the federal regulations.
Fox said EPA expects to complete its review of Louisiana’s application and publish a proposed rule in the coming weeks. It’s also working with three other states to help them complete their applications.
“Geologic sequestration is a complex process that is highly dependent on site-specific conditions; therefore, a robust and comprehensive permit application and permit review process is fundamental to preventing endangerment of underground sources of drinking water from these injection activities,” Fox said.
IEPA has told Congress, Fox said, that it’s working to update its process and achieve target permitting timeframes. “EPA has an agency wide goal of issuing Class VI permitting decisions within 24 months of receiving a complete application. Currently, all Class VI applications under review by EPA were submitted within the last 24 months.”
And over 80% of these permit applications were submitted within the last 12 months, Fox said.
WVMA President Rebecca McPhail told The Dominion Post in a Monday email exchange, “We opted to be part of this coalition because we strongly believe in an all-of-the-above energy mix and carbon capture is important to maximizing the use of our fossil fuels in West Virginia.”
She said, “We appreciate the EPA’s acknowledgment of our concerns and feel it is time for the agency and the administration to quit sending mixed messages about climate goals. Dragging out the permitting process and not granting state primacy is counterproductive to those efforts.”
Luke Bernstein, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, told The Dominion Post, “We appreciate that the leadership of the EPA has responded to our letter. Their response underscores the significant time it has taken the agency to review and respond to requests for delegations of permitting authority to the states.
“Given that it is expected EPA will soon announce a rulemaking for natural gas-fired power plants that strongly encourages the use of carbon capture,” he said, “it is clear these requests for delegations need to move along faster. To our knowledge, EPA has only issued two class VI permits for CCUS for a project in Illinois, and these took more than six years.”
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