Polly Glover realized her son had asthma when he was nine months old. Now 26, he carries an inhaler in his pocket whenever he is out and about in Prairieville, Louisiana, part of Ascension Parish.
“He probably needs to leave Ascension quite frankly,” Glover said, but he has not because “this is his home and this is our family and this is our community.”
The parish is part of the 137km span between New Orleans and Baton Rouge officially called the Mississippi River Chemical Corridor, more commonly known as “Cancer Alley.”
The region’s air quality is some of the worst in the US, and in several places along the corridor, cancer risks are much higher than levels considered acceptable by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
Glover said that the air is “terrible” where she lives, but there is also great biodiversity — osprey, eagles, migratory birds, deer, rabbits, fish and alligators — among the region’s lakes, rivers and wetlands.
Glover, an environmental advocate, has been working for 30 years to preserve the place she has loved since childhood.
That is why she is wary of anything that might make air quality worse or threaten wildlife — and her biggest fear is that a US$4.5 billion plant designed to capture climate-changing carbon and make clean-burning hydrogen fuel will do more harm to the Lake Maurepas Basin.
The blue hydrogen energy plant is to be built and operated by Air Products and Chemicals, a multinational petrochemical company.
The company said the plant would capture airborne carbon emissions created during production and put them safely underground — a process called carbon capture and storage (CCS).
“Sometimes, I think people think you’re kind of bubbling this in at the bottom of the lake,” Air Products investor relations, corporate relations and sustainability vice president Simon Moore said. “You know, this is a mile below the Earth’s surface, where the geological formation of the rock has this porous space, which simply absorbs the carbon dioxide.”
Still, Glover is worried.
“I’m not a scientist. I’m a mom who cares,” she said. “We have got to be better stewards of the environment and while reducing carbon emissions is necessary, injecting them into the basin is not the answer.”
There are several other CCS projects proposed or in the works throughout the US, including in Louisiana, Texas, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa and California. Companies behind them maintain that they can successfully remove carbon from the air to reduce pollution, then safely transport and store the carbon underground — or do both.
In some cases, oil and gas companies are banking on this new technology to either help build new profit centers, such as plants that make hydrogen, or extend the lifespan of their fossil-fuel facilities.
CCS projects are gaining traction since the US Congress approved US$3.5 billion for them last year.
The Global CCS Institute, a think tank seeking to advance these projects globally, said it was the “single largest appropriation of money for CCS in the history of the technology.”
In the latest report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s top scientists said that CCS technology has to be part of the range of solutions to decarbonize and mitigate climate change.
However, they said that solar and wind energy, and electricity storage are improving faster than CCS.
Opponents of CCS maintain that the technology is unproven and has been less effective than alternatives, such as solar and wind, at decarbonizing the energy sector.
“Carbon capture is neither workable nor feasible,” said Basav Sen, climate justice policy director for the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive think tank based in Washington. “It’s merely an excuse for the fossil-fuel industry to keep operating the way it does.”
A study in late 2020 by researchers from the University of California, San Diego found that more than 80 percent of 39 projects that have sought to commercialize CCS ended in failure. The study cited lack of technological readiness as a top factor.
However, even if the technology was deployed successfully, several critics have said that the projects would threaten the public health of communities long plagued by air and water pollution.
First, they said any project that prolongs the lifespan of an existing industrial facility presents additional environmental harm by extending the amount of time that it pollutes a community, which the IPCC report confirms.
Second, they said that since carbon capture would require more energy to power the equipment, it would result in more air pollution because the technology can only catch a portion of the carbon emitted by a facility.
Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and pioneer of CCS technology, disputed this in an interview with the Associated Press, but he said there is a risk in transporting and storing carbon.
In 2020, a pipeline carrying compressed carbon dioxide ruptured in the town of Satartia, Mississippi, which resulted in more than 40 people needing to be hospitalized and more than 300 to evacuate. The incident is cited by experts, advocates and residents who live near proposed CCS projects to illustrate potential dangers of transporting carbon long distances.
Injecting carbon underground for storage could end up contaminating aquifers, said Nikki Reisch, director of the climate and energy program for the Center for International Environmental Law.
More than 500 environmental organizations, including the law center, signed an open letter published in the Washington Post in July last year, calling CCS a “false solution.”
In response, the Carbon Capture Coalition, which advocates the technology, released its own letter in August with more than 100 signatories. They pressed Congress to include investment in CCS in any upcoming legislation.
Matt Fry, a state and regional policy manager with the Great Plains Institute, a Minneapolis-based climate and energy think tank, said the technology is essential to meeting mid-century climate goals.
“The potential for a completely decarbonized, electrified world is a reality,” Fry said. “But we’re going to need to transition to get there. And it’s going to require carbon capture to address those emissions.”
At the point of capture, the technology poses a “very low” threat to public health, Herzog said.
“There’s always a chance of some mishaps, but on the overall scale of chemical plants, [the technology] is fairly benign,” he added.
Still, residents near proposed projects worry.
In California’s Central Valley agricultural region, Chevron, Microsoft and Schlumberger New Energy are collaborating to build a facility in the town of Mendota that would create energy by converting agricultural waste into carbon monoxide and hydrogen gas, then mixing it with oxygen to generate electricity with the promise of capturing 99 percent of the carbon from the process.
Chevron said it plans to inject the carbon “underground into nearby deep geologic formations.”
That is concerning for Nayamin Martinez, who lives in the valley and is director of the Central California Environmental Justice Network.
“That worries us a lot,” she said. “What does that mean in terms of risk for contamination of drinking water?”
Chevron spokesman Creighton Welch said the process they plan to use is safe.
“Carbon dioxide capture, injection and storage are not new technologies and have been conducted safely for decades,” Welch said.
Back in Louisiana, Glover and other residents also fear CCS technology could affect the water. The carbon dioxide captured at the Air Products and Chemicals facility would be stored in sites such as under Lake Maurepas, an important wetland.
Kim Coates, who lives on the lake’s northeast side, said that it is a buffer between the Gulf of Mexico and residents.
However, she said she has witnessed generations of destruction to that ecosystem through industrial development and, more recently, hurricanes and tropical storms.
Now Coates fears more of the same if carbon is stored under the lake.
“We’ve seen the destruction over time with no one looking forward to what was going to happen in the future,” she said.
The global chip shortage last year caused an unprecedented supply-chain crisis, affecting many key industries, including the auto industry. Europe, Japan and the US began to realize the indispensability and ubiquitous dominance of Taiwan’s semiconductor manufacturing industry. At the same time, amid the US-China trade war, Beijing’s military aggressions against Taiwan became increasingly blatant and provocative. In light of these developments, Europe, Japan and the US are formulating new policies to rebuild their domestic semiconductor manufacturing base, so as to mitigate the enormous geopolitical and economic risks involved. Last year, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co (TSMC) commanded 56 percent of the global
An April circular by the Chinese Ministry of Education on student admission criteria at Tibetan universities has been harrowing and discriminating to say the least. The circular said that prospective students must state their “political attitude and ideological morality” to be considered for admission. It also said that students should not be involved in religious movements and students who are proficient in Marxist theory should be preferred. Since Beijing started occupying Tibet, it has meticulously introduced policies to dismantle the Tibetan education system, which is closely tied to its rich monastic tradition, and has even pulled students from Afghanistan and eastern
Opinion polls show that Taiwan’s judicial system and law enforcement “enjoy” low approval ratings among Taiwanese. In spite of data showing low crime rates, many Taiwanese drivers have faced aggressive driving, unprovoked road rage, road blocking and unmotivated police officers. Some criminals seem to consider themselves above the law, which is not completely wrong. Reports about so-called “road blocking” can be found in newspapers or on YouTube. An example of this is when “road rowdies” block a vehicle on a road, get out of their vehicle and start to attack the occupants of the blocked vehicle — often attacking in a
When I was teaching in Lesotho in southern Africa during the 1980s, I taught a class on comparative foreign policy. The course included trips to the US embassy, the Soviet embassy, the British embassy and the newly established Chinese embassy. The students could ask the ambassadors and staff questions about foreign policy, and would then write a report as their final term paper. The Chinese ambassador felt that the US-style education I delivered was unique and invited me to go to China to teach. At the time, China was planning to open up to the world, and it needed professors versed