February 17, 2022 | 2 minute read

On February 16, the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) published an interim guidance document on Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS Guidance) that outlines the Administration’s efforts to assist federal agencies with regulation and permitting of CCUS projects. Following on the heels of CEQ’s CCUS Report of 2021, the CCUS Guidance encourages a variety of federal agencies to streamline federal decision making for CCUS projects and associated infrastructure. The CCUS Guidance also outlines principles for public engagement regarding CCUS projects and calls for additional efforts to understand the environmental impacts and technological life-cycles of various CCUS technologies and facilities. The Guidance is characterized as “interim,” and CEQ is seeking comments on it until March 18, 2022.

Long before the Biden Administration set an ambitious goal of a net-zero emissions by 2050, companies from a variety of sectors had begun exploring the viability of CCUS technologies (especially in light of the Section 45Q tax incentives). As CEQ explains in the CCUS Guidance, such CCUS projects will be similar to many other kinds of industrial activities that require federal authorizations and therefore must undergo environmental and cultural resource reviews. CEQ encourages the many agencies with jurisdiction over CCUS projects to coordinate their reviews to ensure that the deployment of CCUS nationwide is “efficient” and “responsible.” CEQ also recognizes that carbon dioxide pipelines will be “critical” to the long-term sequestration of captured carbon dioxide. CEQ is encouraging federal agencies to update any relevant regulations to address the deployment of carbon capture technologies and the creation of infrastructure necessary to support CCUS.

In addition to outlining next steps for the agencies with respect to project and infrastructure reviews and approvals, CEQ also recommends that federal agencies take steps to engage a variety of stakeholders and Tribes in the development of CCUS projects. In particular—and consistent with this Administration’s emphasis on environmental justice—CEQ encourages agencies to avoid imposing burdens associated with CCUS projects on “overburdened and underserved communities” by “implementing appropriate mitigation and avoidance measures.”

CEQ is also encouraging federal agencies to conduct studies to determine whether and to what extent carbon capture leads to any positive air quality impacts. And, to increase public confidence in carbon capture technology and reductions in carbon emissions, CEQ is encouraging agencies (especially EPA and the DOE) to implement reporting frameworks and make various statistics about carbon capture technology publicly available. In addition to increasing public confidence in CCUS, CEQ advises that these efforts could further refine DOE standards and certifications for CCUS projects.

In summary, while the guidance does not effectuate any substantive change in federal roles and responsibilities, it is a step towards efforts to coordinate what could be complex multi-agency reviews implicating funding, permits, and uses of public lands.  On the other hand, it suggests additional procedural steps and potential “mitigation and avoidance measures” that could delay or complicate federal approval of CCUS projects. If you would like to know more or comment on the guidance, please contact Ann Navaro, Jeff Holmstead, and Daniel Pope.