On November 2, 2023, the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources held a hearing to “Examine Opportunities and Challenges in Deploying CCUS and DAC Technologies on Federal and Non-Federal Lands.” Opening remarks were made by committee Chairman Sen. Joe Manchin and ranking member Sen. John Barrasso. A panel of witnesses gave testimony at the hearing. The panel included Brad J. Crabtree, Assistant Secretary for Fossil Energy and Carbon Management; Bruno Pigott, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water; Erin Burns, Executive Director of Carbon180; and Lily R. Barkau, P.G., Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Groundwater Section Manager.
In his opening remarks, Manchin expressed frustration with the pace of permitting for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) and direct air capture (DAC) projects, noting that CCUS and DAC developers have submitted more than 120 applications to the EPA for Class VI well permits to sequester carbon since the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, and not a single Class VI well permit has been approved. Far from being the only frustrated voice in the room, Manchin found broad support for his impatience within the committee. Sen. Angus King summarized his questions and comments with a simple message – “Hurry up!”
In light of the backlog of Class VI well applications at the EPA and the estimated two-year wait time for approval, numerous committee members inquired about similar delays in the EPA’s granting states primacy enforcement authority over Class VI wells. Sen. Bill Cassidy pointed to the reopening of public comments on Louisiana’s long-pending primacy application and bluntly said, “Tell me why I shouldn’t be incredibly frustrated with EPA.”
Piggot expressed sympathy for the committee members’ impatience and highlighted steps taken by the EPA to facilitate more expedient application reviews, including the EPA’s recent allocation of $48 million in grants to states and Tribal nations that are interested in pursuing primacy enforcement authority over Class VI wells. However, he did not provide assurances that the primacy or Class VI well application-review processes would or could be expedited.
The hearing held by the Senate Committee on Energy & Natural Resources served to highlight growing impatience with a federal permitting logjam that is hindering the ability of stakeholders to deploy carbon-capture technologies that have been both lauded and incentivized by the Biden administration. With permitting reform in the spotlight, the White House Council on Environmental Quality recently announced its intent to co-convene a CCUS permitting task force with the Department of Energy. However, permitting delays remain a significant hurdle to wide-scale deployment of CCUS and DAC technologies.