USDA Proposes Carbon Capture, Sequestration Permitting on National Forest Lands

Arapaho & Roosevelt National Forests Pawnee National Grassland

(Credit: USDA)

by | Nov 7, 2023

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has proposed a rule that would allow for potential carbon capture and sequestration projects on national forests and grasslands.

If finalized, the proposal would allow the Forest Service to consider proposals for projects that capture and store carbon emissions in underground geologic formations. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 1.2 gigatons of carbon must be captured and sequestered each year by 2030 to meet global net-zero emissions by 2050.

Forests and grasslands are already known for their natural abilities to remove carbon from the atmosphere, and the Forest Service claims this new ruling would allow yet another way for them to contribute to broader efforts to mitigate climate change.

The Bureau of Land Management has already issued a geologic carbon storage policy for public lands, and the Forest Service aims to align the new ruling with the BLM’s existing framework. This would include screening for safe, scientifically sound projects that consider the needs and inputs of local communities, along with compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and approval from an authorized officer at the Forest Service.

USDA Explores Multiple Avenues for Carbon Capture

In October, the USDA released a report on the potential for farmers and forest landowners to generate carbon credits. Carbon credits are purchased by companies in order to offset their emissions footprint, and credits may support carbon storage projects such as soil sequestration or other biologic carbon sequestration processes. The USDA Forest Service also recently announced that it will provide $150 million to help small acreage forest landowners keep forests healthy and resilient in order to serve as natural carbon storage.

Some skepticism has arisen surrounding geologic carbon sequestration, especially since it is not a natural process like other carbon-reducing solutions the USDA has supported. Geologic carbon storage includes pumping carbon in gas or liquid form into saline formations, depleted oil and gas reservoirs, and coal seams. Since stored carbon would potentially remain in the ground for thousands of years to come, there is concern over leakage of carbon into drinking water or causing soil contamination.

In an effort to avoid this, the USDA maintains federal requirements for underground injection control under the Safe Water Act. Innovative ways for storing carbon are also in development, working to bring safe, reliable carbon capture solutions to the levels required for global emissions reduction targets.

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