The Department of Energy directed $1.9 billion in 2018 from a federal loan meant for clean energy projects to the Appalachian Storage Hub, a behemoth plastics facility supporters dubbed a “petrochemical supermarket” in the heart of what was once coal country but now is increasingly a gas fracking empire.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wants to stop that from happening again.
The progressive stalwart introduced an amendment to the next House spending bill that would prohibit President Donald Trump’s administration from giving money through the Department of Energy’s Title XVII loan guarantee program to projects that increase planet-heating emissions, HuffPost has learned.
The amendment, introduced with Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), “clarifies” that the program “is providing loans only to clean energy projects that avoid, reduce or sequester air pollutants or human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases.” The House could vote on the proposal as part of a bloc of amendments as early as Thursday afternoon.
“Minnesotans are counting on us to fight for them — not for Trump’s personal agenda or special interests,” Omar said in a statement to HuffPost.
The spirit of the program was never in question. The Energy Department’s website for the program lists advanced nuclear, solar, wind and geothermal as examples of technologies that have received a combined $25 billion in loans since 2005. There is a section for advanced fossil energy projects that the agency itself said are eligible only if they reduce, avoid or sequester greenhouse gas emissions, such as carbon capture projects.
The Appalachian Storage Hub, however, appears to fall outside those definitions. The fossil fuels industry has invested heavily in petrochemicals, a sector dominated by plastics production, as oil and gas for transportation, electricity and heating look increasingly threatened by the proliferation of electric and more efficient vehicles, renewable power and electrified appliances.
Cheap, abundant fossil fuels made single-use plastic packaging ubiquitous over the past decade, and the American fracking boom has triggered a new wave of plastic-resin manufacturing as companies look for new profit streams for natural gas byproducts.
But there is mounting evidence of the growing health threat from the world’s mounds of plastic garbage as tiny particles of microplastic appear everywhere — from the air in the remote wilderness to Arctic snow to human feces. Such microplastics damage plant roots, clog fish organs and may cause cancer.
Plastics’ effect on the climate appears even more direct. Emissions from making or burning plastics added 850 million metric tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere in 2019, according to a report published last year by the Center for International Environmental Law, a research outfit that tracks the petrochemical industry. That figure is equivalent to the heat-trapping emissions from 189 coal-fired power plants. By 2050, those emissions could hit 2.8 billion metric tons, equal to 615 new coal plants, given the expansion of plastics production.
“The plastics crisis is a climate crisis hiding in plain sight,” Carroll Muffett, the Center for International Environmental Law’s chief executive, told NPR last year.
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