The Pennsylvania Senate is deliberating a measure that could transform regulatory oversight of large wells used to store carbon dioxide emissions underground.
The bill under consideration may shift the decision-making authority from federal regulators to state-level ones, sparking a contentious debate about oversight and the impact on local communities.
Carbon capture is a crucial technology in the expanding hydrogen production industry, projected to receive a substantial influx of funding over the next decade. The Department of Energy, under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, plans to allocate $7 billion to around 10 projects to develop “hydrogen hubs.”
These hubs are a hot ticket in Pennsylvania, with three applications already submitted for their creation. Last year, state lawmakers and former Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf approved $1 billion in tax incentives to attract a hub to the state.
However, critics, including environmental advocates and lawmakers, express concerns that the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) won’t be able to provide adequate oversight of carbon capture and storage. They worry that local communities may be at risk without federal oversight.
The proposed bill, recently passed by the state Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, would establish a legal and regulatory framework for the DEP to decide where companies can establish underground injection wells. These wells store liquified carbon dioxide, preventing greenhouse gases from being released into the atmosphere. The DEP would be responsible for evaluating the terrain for good construction, enforcing regulations on storage and transportation infrastructure quality, and monitoring public health impacts.
Currently, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) holds the primary enforcement authority over injection wells, known as “primacy.” This authority mandates that the EPA approve projects and ensure they meet federal construction, monitoring, and operating standards.
The new bill proposes the DEP assume this authority from the EPA, a move that only two other states – North Dakota and Wyoming – have implemented. However, other energy-rich states like Louisiana and Texas are considering similar steps.
State Sen. Gene Yaw (R., Lycoming), the environmental committee chair, advocates for Pennsylvania to pursue carbon capture, utilization, and storage. Yaw believes the bill could signal to the Department of Energy that Pennsylvania is prepared to host a hydrogen hub.
However, concerns persist about the environmental and community impacts of the bill. State Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D., Chester) supports state regulatory power over carbon capture but argues that this particular bill lacks the necessary regulation and oversight.
While most state lawmakers concur that federal funding for a hydrogen hub would boost Pennsylvania’s economy and generate thousands of jobs, they differ on the appropriate level of government oversight for hydrogen production and related industries.
The debate extends beyond state boundaries and into environmental groups like the Sierra Club, where opinions also diverge. For some, the question is whether the state can formulate environmental regulations stricter than those set by the federal government.