An oil and gas company is leading an effort to build massive machines capable of sucking carbon dioxide from the air in the congressional district of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.
But to be viable, the California project will likely need millions of dollars in support from a program created by the 2021 infrastructure law — a bill McCarthy (R-Calif.) urged his Republican colleagues to oppose. Only 13 House Republicans voted for the $1.2 trillion spending package, which passed the Senate with the support of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and over a dozen other Republicans.
If the so-called California Direct Air Capture (DAC) Hub project goes forward, it would be the most high-profile instance of Republican lawmakers’ constituents benefiting economically from climate spending bills they’ve opposed. A similar pattern is already playing out across the country with new facilities popping up in GOP-led districts to manufacture solar panels, electric vehicles and other climate tech Democrats have passed legislation to subsidize.
President Joe Biden acknowledged the trend at his State of the Union address Tuesday night. He thanked Republicans who had supported the bipartisan infrastructure law and said he didn’t begrudge those who voted against it, such as McCarthy, who was seated behind him.
“Don’t worry, I promised to be the president for all Americans,” Biden said, turning to the Republican side of the House chamber. “We’ll fund your projects. And I’ll see you at the groundbreaking.”
Carbon TerraVault Holdings LLC, a subsidiary of oil company California Resources Corp., is putting together the proposal for the project with local colleges, government officials and other energy companies. Planned for Kern County — the epicenter of California’s oil and gas industry — the project would also benefit areas represented by Rep. David Valadao, a Republican who wasn’t in Congress when the infrastructure law passed.
Spokespeople for McCarthy and Valadao didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Chris Gould, California Resources’ chief sustainability officer, said the company has provided updates to the congressmen on the project. It’s a “tremendous opportunity for Kern County,” he said — one that likely hinges on the infrastructure law’s $3.5 billion program to establish regional hubs that remove large amounts of CO2 from the air.
“Direct air capture is a nascent industry,” Gould said. “It needs this early stage funding to get the first projects initiated and begin to drive the cost down that will come with economies of scale.”
The Inflation Reduction Act, which Republicans universally opposed, also increased a per ton tax incentives for capturing carbon.
Carbon TerraVault focuses on removing CO2 from smokestacks or the atmosphere and burying it underground. Gould said it has been working for months with community groups, labor unions, academics, national labs and other businesses to prepare a proposal for the Department of Energy, which is implementing the DAC Hub program.
The facilities would be built by the California DAC startup Avnos Inc. and Climeworks AG, the Swiss operator of the world’s largest DAC plant (Climatewire, Sept. 7, 2021). It would be the first American project for Climeworks, which has been staffing up in the U.S. (Climatewire, Jan. 9).
Other notable collaborators include Brookfield Renewable Partners LP, Bloom Energy and Kern Community College District. The district is leading the community engagement portion of the application, and the energy companies have agreed to provide emissions-free power to the DAC plants, according to Gould.
“This project is more than a shared DAC infrastructure project,” California State Treasurer Fiona Ma said in a press release. “It serves as a hub model that delivers community benefits and jobs for other parts of the U.S. that also face climate change-induced challenges.”
The coalition, though led by an oil company, has committed not to use any CO2 captured by the DAC plants to extract more fossil fuels out of the ground. It is seeking up to $12.5 million in matching funds from DOE, Gould said.
That level of support requires the coalition to have a credible plan to remove 50,000 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere annually and the potential to scale up to 1 million metric tons.
For reference, the world emitted almost 39 billion tons of CO2 in 2021, the most recent year for which data is available. To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, scientists say the world needs to rapidly slash emissions and scale up carbon removal from trees and technologies like DAC. Up to 10 billion tons of CO2 will need to be removed annually from the atmosphere by 2050, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine, a figure that increases to 20 billion tons per year by 2100.
But there are currently only 18 DAC facilities operating worldwide, which are collectively capable of capturing less than 10,000 metric tons of CO2 per year, according to an April 2022 report from the International Energy Agency.
Although the Energy Department has said the list of DAC Hub applicants is “confidential,” Carbon TerraVault is one of several contenders that have now publicly announced their plans to take lead or part in proposals (Climatewire, Jan. 30). Others include the DAC startups CarbonCapture Inc. and Sustaera Inc., as well as the University of Houston and the University of Michigan.
Reporter Carlos Anchondo contributed.