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By Michael Esealuka
The Biden administration has betrayed its climate and environmental justice commitments in order to let the fossil fuel industry continue its dangerous and dirty practices. The consequences are hitting America’s small towns first.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently approved permits to allow a Chevron refinery on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to burn a boat fuel ingredient using a process the fossil fuel industry refers to as “chemical recycling” and environmental health advocates call burning plastic.
Once billed as the climate president, Joe Biden is now letting rural communities become test subjects for climate scams like carbon capture and “chemical recycling.”
Despite the environmentally friendly branding, these are dangerous, unproven technologies that the fossil fuel industry sees as a way to boost its profits under the guise of going green.
Whether ranchers in South Dakota, farmers in Nebraska, fisherfolk in Louisiana or small-town residents in Mississippi, all rural communities need the Biden administration to up and protect them from false climate solutions.
The Chevron refinery in Pascagoula, Mississippi, might call its process “recycling,” but it’s plastic burning in all but name.
Using a process called pyrolysis, Chevron would superheat plastic waste until it breaks down into hydrocarbons that can be used to manufacture new chemicals.
The fossil fuel industry has billed plastic burning as a “solution” to climate change, but EPA’s own scientists have blown the whistle on the enormous health risks associated with this technology, finding that exposure comes with a cancer risk 250,000 times higher than what the agency usually considers acceptable.
Pascagoula is one of many small towns under threat as the Biden administration pumps $100 million of our tax dollars into plastic burning. If the American Chemical Association has its way, up to 150 new plastic-burning facilities will come online across the country.
This isn’t the only dangerous technology that’s been rebranded as a climate solution.
In the 1990s the fossil fuel industry named the process of capturing carbon emissions from coal plants and storing them deep underground “clean coal.”
Now it’s greenwashed the same process — which fossil fuel companies see as the best shot to keep the industry expanding for another 20 years — even further, rebranding it “carbon capture and storage.”
The problem is that carbon capture is enormously expensive, and it simply doesn’t work. The technology has a decades-long history of failure. Research shows that carbon capture has actually added more carbon emissions into our atmosphere.
Apart from the fact it just doesn’t work, carbon capture is dangerous. Ask the people of Satartia, Mississippi. In 2020 a sudden leak from a carbon pipeline led to dozens of residents collapsing into seizures in a scene described as akin to a zombie apocalypse.
The town’s 200 residents had to be evacuated, with 45 hospitalized. As first responders arrived on the scene, their cars shut off because there was so little oxygen in the air.
The only reason no one died, residents say, is because the incident happened during the daytime.
Neither plastic burning nor carbon capture will help our climate change problem, but both are false solutions that threaten the health and safety of America’s rural communities.
Yet the Biden administration plans to spend over $2 billion on carbon capture and transport. That means the nation’s existing 5,300 miles of carbon pipelines could grow to a 65,000-mile network, with opportunities for carbon leaks at every point.
Don’t want carbon piped through your land? Too bad. The U.S. Department of Energy plans to use eminent domain so it can seize property from farmers and hand it to private companies.
The fossil fuel industry has sold us false solutions for a reason.
Rebranding plastic burning as “recycling” lets the industry continue pushing single-use plastic, 99% of which is made from fossil fuels.
Carbon capture won’t actually remove carbon emissions from our atmosphere, but storing the carbon underground is a great way to squeeze the last drops of oil out of a non-producing well — a process called “enhanced oil recovery.”
Despite its promises, the Biden administration is turning rural areas across the U.S. into test subjects for the fossil fuel industry’s climate scams.
Biden talks a good game about his commitment to environmental justice, but our communities are under threat. We need action.
Originally published by Common Dreams.
Michael Esealuka is a community organizer based in Louisiana and a 2023 public voices fellow with the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications.