Newsom’s top climate adviser opens door for carbon capture role in California

By Colby Bermel 10/22/2020 06:39 PM EDT

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s top climate adviser voiced support Thursday for carbon capture and storage but stopped short of a commitment to further expanding the technology’s application toward California’s ambitious climate targets.

Impact: The remarks by Kate Gordon, director of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research, are nevertheless a milestone for supporters of carbon capture and storage, or CCS, as they seek to develop the nascent technology in the world’s fifth-largest economy.

Background: Gordon, whose portfolio at OPR includes the coordination of state energy and environmental policy, spoke Thursday on a panel about carbon capture, during which researchers from Stanford University and the consultancy chaired by former President Barack Obama’s energy secretary called on California to provide more support of CCS.

A Stanford and Energy Futures Initiative report released Thursday said carbon capture technology could be installed at facilities responsible for 15 percent of the state’s emissions, which would make significant progress toward California’s goal of economywide carbon neutrality by 2045. But some environmentalists argue CCS is just an attempt to extend the lives of fossil fuel plants, and the technology faces high costs and regulatory obstacles.

Details: Gordon said Thursday that the Newsom administration sees carbon removal “as a necessary part” of its integrated approach to climate change. She acknowledged that the state’s approach for a long time has focused on technology and programs to reduce emissions, but there is now greater interest in capturing and storing those emissions, in addition to climate resilience outlined in a conservation and biodiversity executive order earlier this month.

“Those are real priorities for the governor and very clear parts of our overall strategy,” Gordon said. “We clearly have to be getting stuff out of the atmosphere at the same time that we’re aggressively reducing risk from existing impacts and aggressively reducing future emissions.”

This can be accomplished, she detailed, by coordinating government efforts and holistically looking at various facets of climate policy: technology, land use, economic development, environment, jobs and equity. The goal is “providing more consistent policy signals, and ultimately more consistent approaches and operational processes, on these issues.”

Newsom “has been really clear that when we have a clear policy direction that aligns with our climate and equity values, he wants us to have a business relationship that he says is red carpet, not red tape,” Gordon continued.

Context: Gordon’s comments will likely encourage CCS advocates, as the EFI-Stanford report claimed California hasn’t done enough to formally articulate and provide support for carbon capture. There are no operational CCS facilities in California; just five projects are at various planning stages.page1image36685120page1image36699136page1image36692608page1image36698368

“The reality is that much of what we need to do is coordination across agencies and being clearer on things like responsibility and accountability and liability issues,” Gordon acknowledged.

The EFI-Stanford report also urged the state to incorporate CCS into the cap-and-trade program, as carbon capture is currently only counted in the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

Gordon argued that while housing CCS within the fuel standard provides “the most valuable price signal on this issue of any place … we need to be locating that policy within a more consistent vision, a more consistent set of policies and a more streamlined and integrated set of policies. And that’s where we’re headed.”

What’s next: Gordon said an interagency task force is studying engineered carbon removal, and that CARB’s 2022 scoping plan and the California Energy Commission’s 2022 building code will be venues for further discussion of carbon removal.

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