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Guest Commentary: California Can Lead in Carbon Reduction Technology

“As the U.S. works to decarbonize, we will need to use every tool available to meet the climate crisis.”

International Vice President - Western States J. Tom Baca

By J. Tom Baca, International Vice President – Western States, as published by the Carbon Action Alliance

California has always been at the forefront of ambitious climate policy, and thanks to the hardworking, blue-collar building trades workers who have built California’s vast solar fields and onshore wind farms, our state is a world leader in renewable power generation. As the U.S. works to decarbonize, we will need to use every tool available to meet the climate crisis.  

As California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) has recognized, carbon management—a range of technologies that capture carbon emissions from facilities or the atmosphere and transport them for permanent storage or conversion—needs to be deployed in order to reach our climate goals. And as with solar and onshore wind, California has the opportunity to lead the nation and the world by utilizing carbon management in industries that are otherwise challenging to decarbonize.  

Climate scientists agree: In addition to decreasing emissions and incentivizing clean fuels and power generation, the world must also remove carbon from the atmosphere in order to limit global warming to a sustainable level. Absent urgent and aggressive action, we are already at risk of not being able to achieve this.  

One method of carbon management, called Direct Air Capture (DAC), directly removes carbon from the atmosphere. Carbon capture collects carbon emitted from industrial sites and power plants before it gets into earth’s atmosphere and safely injects it into the ground. Both methods need to be deployed at scale for California and the nation to responsibly respond to the climate crisis; fortunately, California is uniquely positioned to do so.  

California alone is looking at building hundreds of miles of underground infrastructure across 50 potential sites, creating thousands of jobs, to transport carbon emissions to carbon reduction centers in and near the Central Valley, an area that boasts some of the best geological features in the world to store carbon. So much so that the Central Valley and California could potentially store all of the carbon produced across the entire country in over 14 years. 

The Central Valley has more than just the geology to help meet the climate crisis. It has the pragmatic local leadership to ensure that projects are identified and adequately supported by state and local permitting processes, often much more onerous in other parts of the state that have become politically paralyzed by extremist agendas intent on stymieing every project designed to deploy climate innovation. Also, the Central Valley is home to a historic agricultural industry. This industry will need the help of climate innovation, including carbon management, to continue providing food that lands on every dinner table across America and meet California’s aggressive climate goals. And the Central Valley is home to some of the hardest working people in California and the nation, and their work on building the infrastructure to support carbon management will be key to the country’s ability to reach climate goals.  

I grew up in the Sacramento Valley, which was more like the Central Valley than it is today, as the agricultural industry and its workforce have been largely displaced. As an elected leader with the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, a labor organization whose members are building carbon capture infrastructure in other states and nations, I know that we can make a real difference in California and the world. In the process, we can allow our traditional industries, like agriculture, to continue to flourish, create thousands of new jobs in the Central Valley where unemployment and underemployment rates continue to be unacceptably much higher than in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles Basin, and help our country tackle the climate crisis. And the time to get going was yesterday.